We have guest writers doing classic reviews from time to time. This time around, Shams Us Zuha from Lahore decides to review Joy Division’s classic debut album.
I’ve been a big follower of Steven Wilson, well known as the frontman of the prog rock outfit Porcupine Tree. And one of the most oft-repeated bands in his monthly playlists is Joy Division. That’s how I was first introduced to this album and hence Post-Punk. And so I’ve tried not to miss any aspect of this record.
The change from Joy Division to New Order following Ian’s suicide should be enough to convince anybody that he was the soul of the group. Sure, he had help! Hook, Hannett, those drum patterns that so disturbingly mirrored Ian’s own epileptic fits. He’d dance that way, like he was having a fit. Then he’d have an actual fit, but it’d be a good few minutes before anybody realized. Ian had an interest in all things German. Were Joy Division Nazis? Or was Ian just plugged into something? By all accounts, off-stage, out of the studio – he was quiet, thoughtful. But, you know. It was the times. Punk had happened but was on the verge of imploding. Britain suffered from poverty and everything seemed bleak – let’s look to Germany. Musical influences? Kraftwerk sounded like aliens. Iggy Pop was debauched yet utterly cool. Fans of the Velvet Underground were still some sort of secret society – the group had yet to pass into being ‘classic rock’, or anything like that. Joy Division combined a number of influences that added to the playing style of the rhythm section and the production skills of Martin Hannett created something unique. Of course, you also had the lyrics, the artwork. Everything combined together. You had the physicality of Ian Curtis on stage.
Have you ever made a suicide pact with someone? Young love, perhaps? This girl wore an ‘Unknown Pleasures’ t-shirt. Two people totally together, two people who both wanted to die because they couldn’t always be physically together. Poverty, bleakness. All this is cliché, but sometimes it actually happens, and Joy Division aren’t the cause of that! Their music becomes this wonderful discovery. You end up watching poor quality videos of Joy Division with all the curtains shut even though the sun is shining brightly outside. BECAUSE the sun is shining brightly outside. You cry for three days solid when the girl leaves. You can’t be together all of the time. You walk the streets at night with ‘Disorder’ running through your brain. “Feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeeeeling.” Raised, a shout, a call, a cry for help. Please let me feel something other than this. And then of course, ‘Day Of The Lords’ which sounds like the whole world is ending. The thing about Joy Division, ‘Disorder’ for example is just great, a genuinely great Rock n Roll song. You don’t have to have ever made a suicide pact with anybody in order to think it’s a wonderfully great song.
Joy Division were almost perfect right from the start. Almost perfect. They had recorded a number of songs, far more straightforward punk, and also recorded an album for RCA records that was horribly produced and sapped the power from the group. That was before ‘Unknown Pleasures’ though. Martin Hannett was the catalyst. He enabled the group to produce the sounds they desired. Echo, haunting soundscapes. ‘Candidate’ has everything, the quintessential sound of ‘Unknown Pleasures’. “there’s blood on your fingers…. I worked hard for this….. you treat me like this.” A few of the songs here start in almost complete silence. ‘Insight’ is one of those. But then you have something like ‘New Dawn Fades’. Ian was a wonderful writer. A wonderful writer. Many rock lyrics, written out on a piece of paper, look like shit. They may sound great when sung, but they aren’t exactly poetry. Ian could really write. These lyrics work as well as literature as they do song lyrics. Now, think about this. You try doing it! You have to be either a poet, or a song lyricist. You can’t ever be both – if you try, you’ll suck at least one of those disciplines, and yeah, I include both Patti Smith and Bob Dylan in that. I don’t include Ian Curtis. There’s a thought he’d have gone on to write novels, and given up music. I can believe it. Where was I? It’s getting late I guess. Ah, yeah. ‘New Dawn Fades’…… I struggle to describe this song. It’s so dark and heavy; it really makes the supposedly dark and ‘satanic’ Black Sabbath seem like a kids cartoon. You want music to reflect and create the feeling of a horror movie? Joy Division did that, and more. They reflected real life, far more horrific. They also included a bass player who sounded like nobody else and a guitarist who was at least as good, if not better, than any other ‘punk’ group around.
‘She’s Lost Control’ is groovy rhythms, strange rhythms, very melodic whilst still retaining the darkness you can either immerse yourself in, take solace from, or simply ignore and enjoy the fantastic music. ‘Shadowplay’ is pretty much perfect. Just wait for the instrumental section. The guitar is genuinely fantastic guitar, quite unlike a punk guitar, but more punk than anything else. The guitar in Joy Division rarely provided the melody. With ‘Unknown Pleasures’, with ‘Shadowplay’ – the bass and drums provide the melody. Specifically the bass. The guitar is allowed free to provide both ‘percussion’ – and in this case, wonderful solos. Full of melody, actually, come to think of it! Rock n Roll! ‘Wilderness’ is all echoed drums, all bass rhythms and melodies. ‘Interzone’ is easily the most straightforward song on the entire record. Just a two minute punk styled blast. It has a place, though. The final song sounds like someone falling apart. This is scary, frightening. ‘Unknown Pleasures’, like ‘Closer’ which followed, is an album that begs to be listened to attentively, from beginning to end. It’s one of the greatest debut albums ever made, and even made a small profit for Factory Records – the groups label. It wasn’t by any means a best-seller, but it influenced a lot of groups that followed. This is a classic album, as simple as that. The small fact that ‘Interzone’ within itself isn’t a masterpiece isn’t going to sway me, because it fits.
– Shams Us Zuha