Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)
2. Day of the Lords
5. New Dawn Fades
6. She's Lost Control
10. I Remember Nothing
In the late 1970's, Joy Division stood out from nearly every other band recording music. Emerging from the UK punk scene, Joy Division, along with other pioneering acts such as Public Image Ltd. and Magazine, played a style of music that was not punk rock, although it was heavily inspired by punk's energy and ethics. This new music was branded as post-punk. Unlike the punk rockers, post-punk bands were not afraid to experiment with more complex and unusual song structures and elements from other styles of music.
Joy Division's music is a landscape built upon the foundations of Peter Hook's driving basslines interwoven with Bernard Sumner's sparse, metallic guitar structures and Stephen Morris' mechanically precise drum patterns. Coupled with the brilliant production of Martin Hannet, this provides a suitable backdrop for Ian Curstis' haunting vocals and rambling, introspective lyrics. Curtis' often rambling, deeply personal lyrics give us a unique look into his mind as he progressed into the depression that would lead him to commit suicide just a few years later.
Unknown Pleasures is something of an enigma. The album cover is deliberately unusual, containing an image from a chart displaying 100 successive pulses from the first know pulsar, PSR B1919+2. There is absolutely no tracklisting on the outside of the packaging, merely a blank table where one would be expected. Peter Saville and Christ Mathan managed to get it right, creating a distinct cover for a distinct piece of music.
Everything on this album is crisp and clear, with Hannet's production work allowing everything to be surprisingly spacious while still sounding powerful and intimate when necessary. The tight, groovy basslines and harsh, icy guitars work really well in this setting. Hannet always paid special attention to the drum tracks, ensuring that they were laid down as clean and precise as possible. The band makes wonderful use of the brilliant production, interspersing upbeat, punky numbers like "Disorder" and "Interzone" with somber, almost gothic songs such as "Candidate" and "I Remember Nothing."
"New Dawn Fades" is perhaps a standout track for me, with its haunting introduction and powerful, moving vocals from Curtis. In retrospect, the lyrics are particularly chilling:
A change of speed, a change of style
A change of scene, with no regrets
A chance to watch, admire the distance
Still occupied, though you forget
Different colors, different shades
Over each mistakes were made
I took the blame
Directionless, so plain to see
A loaded gun won't set you free
So you say...
Along with this, the album contains other certifiable classics such as "Shadowplay" and "She's Lost Control," the latter song telling the story of a woman who is plagued by fits of epilepsy similar to those suffered by Curtis himself. Hindsight only makes Ian Curtis' story surprisingly obvious and all the more tragic.
Joy Division was never afraid to explore new territory, and Curtis gave them the charm and sincere honesty that earned them their place among legends. This album is absolutely essential, and a monument to innovation in music. Despite the band's lifespan being relatively short, their impact on music is still felt even today.