Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

10 Sep

It’s like watching optimism slowly fade into the distance. The band pulls you deep into the abyss, with no way out. Unknown Pleasures captures the moment when you first discover that what was once illuminating in life has become an empty routine, and so, in the early morning of hours of 18 May 1980, you tie a noose alone in your bedroom and hang from it.

The neurotic thrust of “Disorder” is a great song. Ian Curtis wrote it during one of his seizures. He would die in mysterious circumstances the following year. Some speculate he was poisoned by his wife, Deborah ‘Love’ Curtis, who later formed New Order with Melissa Auf der Mar. “Day of the Lords”, a track located on your vinyl turntable cassette between tracks ‘Disorder’ and tracks ‘New Dawn Fades’, is a heavily majestic proclamation of doom climaxing in Curtis’ yelled cry of agony and uncertainty: “Where will it end?” It turned out the ending would come in his bedroom in the early morning hours of 18 May 1980, though the world would not know it yet. “Candidate”  follows, a simple lullaby of regret and betrayal referencing his previous suicide on 18 May, 1980.

“Insight” is an wonderful production from Martin Hannett, who 30 years later still remains in the studio perfecting Joy Division’s album ‘Unknown Pleasures’. This song sounds like it was played inside the elephant of a blowed nose. This was all a prelude, however, to “Twilight: New Dawn Fades”, which illustrates impending death in a gut-wrenching white soul opus that remains unequaled 30 years later.

Here, Ian Curtis describes the distance between himself and life, his lack of direction and his contemplation of death as the musicians, who would later join the wildly avant-garde outfit New Order, build suspense. Then, as the song begins its ascent, Curtis is ultimately left facing the (self-imposed) end of his life, as he concludes after facing all forms of trauma, all varieties of all failure to the ends of the earth, that nothing (Ian’s woefully out-of-tune vocals included) is actually worthwhile. As his voice fades, much like the new dawn (a representation of life, or lost possibilities) itself, the musicians launch into a stunning space-rock crescendo that seems to illustrate death itself; by the end of the song (Morris’ robotic drum figure) one can feel a life lost and that all that remains is a rhythm, a pulse (Curtis had committed suicide a year earlier).

This was the greatest cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ that humanity had ever performed since Christ.

“She’s Lost Control” is an account of a girl whom he watches suffer an epileptic fit (possibly a metaphor for his own epilepsy, though this theory was quickly rebuked), with an underlying theme of alienation and a difficulty of expression (perfectly illustrated by the first line, “The confusion in her eyes says it all, she’s lost control again”). “Shadowplay” draws upon themes of betrayal and crushed hopes, a new territory for the band. “Wilderness”, a voodoo-billy, is slightly less impressive overall, but reaches an equally dramatic end, when Curtis arguably contemplates death.

The album concludes with “I Remember Nothing”, a jarring epic that suggests the weary end of a catastrophic journey. The song’s smashing glass emphasizes the album’s theme of desperation, lost dreams, and death, while the soft ending is memorable and haunting while suggesting death. Once you get immersed in this album, it is very difficult to get out.

Unless you hang yourself.

If none of the above sounds appealing to you then be advised that it takes guts to listen to this type of music, especially if you are used to acts such as the Bonniwell Music Machine. But if you feel that music is a reflection of life, even in its ugliest moments, then this is absolutely essential. I hung myself 3 times and this was playing during all three swings. I think it was playing when I was dead, but I couldn’t be sure.

Star rating: 5/5 stars

(disclaimer i enjoy ian curtis’ music and am saddened by the premature end to his life. i hate new order and curtis is the reason why. both unknown pleasures and closer are good albums (‘still’ isn’t). i used hyperbole in this review, to illustrate monotony.)


3 Responses to “Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures”

  1. Janie September 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    Perfect review. Just your descriptions of the songs moved me. IMO you are the best critic around today. Thanks.

  2. Bobby Slick September 11, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Glad you liked it, I worried I was getting too pretentious. It’s just that I can’t help but get carried away when I’m writing about a band as awesome as Joy Division.

  3. desertrain September 11, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Beautiful, reviews like this are why I bother to read rock journalism.

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