Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division) – Album Review

The Cover Of “Unknown Pleasures” (Joy Division’s Debut Album) Featured The Textured Graph Of A Star Going Supernova Over A Plain Black Background.

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.

Which was yet another contradiction, in a story full of them – the songs featured on the album (and the subsequent songs that the band was to release) didn’t come from any alien, extraneous space. They came from a human being like you and I. They were born in Ian Curtis’ soul, someone who had the bravery and resolve to look as deep inside as he could to find these things that are too bitterly true to be apprehended.

He took all he could take, and what he knew he couldn’t take he left in an exposed position so that others could see it. His experiences at a mental asylum inspired the turbid “She’s Lost Control”, Manchester (the city he lived in and hated) became the point of reunion for those living a doomed youth in “Interzone”, and the centerpieces of the album (“Shadowplay” and “Disorder”) highlighted how positive feelings and emotions that didn’t get a chance to be expressed could end up conditioning a choked existence.

And there is a latent feeling when one listens to the songs on the album that you have also been almost there, but you stopped and didn’t go as far in your explorations as Curtis did. And the question arises like a haunted moon in a sky light by unseen stars: did you stop in the pursuit of the truth because you were intelligent, or because you were a pure fool? Lose yourself in the shadowplay, go from an interzone to the other. Listen to the disorder. You might get a glimpse of an answer sometimes, in that room with no windows were Curtis once did find the truth. But the candidate was only one. And he’s no longer here. When the day of the lords comes, we might be able to get some answers from him. Until then, it will all be an unknown pleasure.

Rating: 10/10

2 thoughts on “Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division) – Album Review

    • Oooppss…. mea culpa, mea culpa
      It’s fixed.
      Thanks for letting me know.
      Looks like Ian wasn’t the only one in need of a guide to come and take him by the hand. ; )

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