Friday, August 18, 2006

pleasure and pain

joy division - 'unknown pleasures'

released: june 1st, 1979
running time: 38'21"
Factory Records

suggested for review by aida

songs: 1. disorder 2. day of the lords 3. candidate 4. insight 5. new dawn fades 6. she's lost control 7. shadowplay 8. wilderness 9. interzone 10. i remember nothing

Joy Division are a sort of missing link, the connecting piece between 70s punk, 80s goth rock and 90s shoegazing. Their often forgotten long reach of influence is such that even metal owes quite a debt to them - within all the realms of darker music, with the possible exception of the Swans, you will find very few records as hypnotically sombre as 'Unknown Pleasures'.

This historical debut floored an unsuspecting public not only with Ian Curtis' instantly recognizable drone vocals, apparently monotone but with an ocean of depth, but also with a very different approach to rock songwriting. On 'Unknown Pleasures', the guitar is not the main vehicle to carry the melody. It's usually the rhythm section that provides the backbone of the songs, with the guitar being used superbly for atmospherics and textures. Take 'Shadowplay', for example, perhaps the record's best song - it's almost as if the guitar and drums switch roles, with the guitar being the percussive drive of the song.

It is, although, hard to generalize anything about this record. Despite the constant thread that runs through it, with each song unmistakably belonging here, the moods twist and turn, as if in an epiletic fit like the ones that troubled Ian Curtis himself. From the haunting echoed emptiness of 'Candidate' to the strangely uplifting beat of 'She's Lost Control', not forgetting the heaviness of 'New Dawn Fades' and the frankly scary drawn-out desolation of closer 'I Remember Nothing', it seems misery was a multi-faceted beast to be approached in several different ways for these young musicians. The songwriting is so good that you can even take it on a purely musical level and enjoy it as a simple rock record, if you can.

Musicians and, in the case of Curtis, writers. Take music lyrics alone and they'll often disappoint, without the weight of the sounds to back them up. Curtis' words stand on their own, however. It's frightening to think what this man could have done, had the sorrow in his life not led him to suicide some months later. That is probably the most harrowing side to this record - you know that none of it is fake. When you hear a man breaking on this record, it's true. Which makes everything here timeless. These feelings and these expressions were as valid in 1979 as they were yesterday.

With their short but decisively essential career, Joy Division have influenced a whole generation of musicians and listeners, and 'Unknown Pleasures' remains one of the most accomplished debut albums of the last decades.

the good: a unique display of sadness and desperation with a stinging value of truth to it, innovative songwriting, fabulous atmosphere
the bad: nothing, really, unless your mood is severely affected by the music you hear and you put this on when you're particularly happy


  1. Apesar de ser suspeita, não posso deixar de dizer que não podia concordar mais com o que escreveste sobre os Joy Division. Confesso que não foi, para mim, um disco fácil de ouvir à primeira, não pela música em si mas pela forma como foi produzido (aquele efeito de eco na bateria não é muito apelativo para mim). Mas agora penso se a música teria ou não a mesma força se fosse gravada de outra forma.

  2. I've never listened to this band but I did see a movie called 24 Hour Party peope about the guy who signed them. They seemed like an interesting band. I will have to put them on the list to check out some day.

  3. aida - é verdade, aquele som muito característico é das coisas que mais identidade dá ao álbum. Achei curioso gostares deste, tu que és anti-80s :)

  4. fred - that movie is amazing, and a good way to discover music from that period. even michael gira from the swans, one of my favourite bands, shows up in that movie.

  5. I didn't realize that Gira was in that movie. I must have missed him.

  6. Realmente sou anti-80s, mas não sou tão anti-80s como sou a favor de música deprimente :)

  7. I've heard of the group, but more on New Order. I should check them out. In highschool when I had heard about them, I was into more "hair"metal and so never even considered them. But now I'm curious.

    I didn't realize that Nine Inch Nails song Dead Souls (on the Crow soundtrack) was a Joy Division cover either. Well until just now.

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  9. aida - chegaste a ouvir uma compilação de música deprimente que eu fiz para a inês? :)

    dpth - if you like gloomy music, you'll probably like them. i like new order less, i think they became a bit more generic without ian.

  10. não ouvi a compilação de música deprimente que fizeste, mas, quando a Inês voltar de férias, vou ter de lhe pedir para me emprestar :)