The Cover Of “Unknown Pleasures” (Joy Division’s Debut Album) Featured The Textured Graph Of A Star Going Supernova Over A Plain Black Background.
It is terrifying to realize how far some individuals can go artistically, and how little they can advance as human beings, what a feeling of deep unfulfillment they might still harbor to the very end. And that is a contradiction which can never be resolved. If it were, we would lose something that we can’t afford to lose: the sense of amazement, of wonder, of sheer dread that hits us when we come across these works marked by the truest lines if sacrifice, and which mark us in due turn.
“Unknown Pleasures” is one of the most distinctive debut records in the history of modern music. It shook everybody at the time of its release. The band, fellow musicians, the public, the critics… nobody was certain where they stood any longer. It was already a convoluted era – in 1979, people were still trying to figure out how to continue after the hurricane named punk rock had savagely altered the surface of the music scene. Well, Joy Division was to go one more, and take away what remained: the ground were everything had once lay to begin with. And the cataclysmic effect of “Unknown Pleasures” is felt as forcefully today as it was felt right then.
The album was to be produced by Martin Hannett, with whom the band was at loggerheads from start to finish. Hannett (later defined by bassist Peter Hook as “a genius, but an evil fucker”) took the band’s sonorous charge and shaped it into something which was luxuriously ordered, without compromising even a quarter of its impetus. He filled the songs with bizarre effects (alarms going off, bottles rolling and then crashing…) and airy echoes that gave the album a true other-worldliness. Continue reading →
Some People Think That The Names “Joy Division” And “New Order” Were Picked Because The Band Had Some Kind Of Nazi Sympathies. That Is A Misconception.
During the Second World War, Nazi officers stationed at concentration camps used the expression “Joy Division” in reference to the younger women imprisoned there – women that they frequently raped.
Ian Curtis, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner settled for that name because all their fathers had fought in World War II. They just wanted a name that had some kind of connection to that armed conflict, as a way of referencing its true weight and how it had touched the lives of their parents.
The fact that the band rechristened itself “New Order” after Curtis died sometimes makes people think that the band had some kind of Nazi affinity – the concept of “New Order” was actively featured in Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. But that is a mistake. There were no Nazy sympathies of any kind at play. As a matter of fact, the band didn’t even pick the name “New Order” themselves. It was chosen by Rob Gretton, the band’s manager at the time after reading an article on a newspaper about Kampuchea and “the new order” of people living there.
Released in 2008, this is an excellent compilation. But to get the main niggle out of the way once and for all: Joy Division was to release an EP and 2 LPs in the years they were together. The 2 albums fit one CD easily, so that coming up with a “Best Of” album which has about 50 minutes of music is always going to be objected to by many. In this particular case, the compilers made the blunder of including an instrumental track (“Incubation”) that is extraneous to the usual spark of the band, which was dependent on Curtis delivery both in terms of content and form.
There, that was the only negative thing that could be said about this anthology. Because the cuts that did make it to the CD are among Joy Division’s finest compositions, conveying in equal measure the palpitating rage and frustration that lay behind Curtis haunted glance, and the melodically ferocious approach of the band. Starting with “Digital” (one of the most delectable paranoid tirades I ever listened to) and ending with “Isolation”, the album is a perfect snapshot of what made the band so unique and (above all) so influential for generations to come.
The first three numbers in particular work like nothing else, as “Digital” is followed by “Disorder” and “Shadowplay”, two emblematic Joy Division songs. The album also includes the hit “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, “Heart & Soul”, the maniac “She’s Lost Control” and a song that makes me think of Costello’s “Radio, Radio”, only that the approach is obviously far removed. The song is called “Transmission”, and while Costello’s number deals with the way the industry dominates the airwaves, Curtis’ song takes a more personal way through and showcases the effect of what is played, not the role of the ones who decide what does get played. Continue reading →
There is something about Joy Division that is impossible to apprehend or even hope to comprehend. Is that because they beget a caterwaul of emotions when you listen to them, and these emotions turn to be the ones we want to keep our distance from yet at the same time the ones we want to have as a permanent fixture within our lives?
The band formed in Manchester in the year 1977. Its members were singer and occasional guitar player Ian Curtis, drummer Steven Morris, guitarist Bernard Albrecht and bass player Peter Hook. They were going to release one EP and two full albums, as their career was to be truncated by Curtis’ suicide in late 1979. He suffered from epileptic seizures, but his lyrics made it clear there was so much more going on, that his frail health was the tip a devastating inner conflict. And the real tragedy is that maybe what happened could have been avoided – the band members readily admitted they never paid his lyrics any heed, and after that fateful day whenever they listened to the old songs something always clicked. Continue reading →