Joy Division Unknown Pleasures, 1979, Factory Records
Day of the Lords
New Dawn Fades
She’s Lost Control
I Remember Nothing
Manchester four piece Joy Division were formed in 1976, inspired by seeing the Sex Pistols live. This is the only complete album that was released with all the original members of the band as singer Ian Curtis died in May 1980 a few months before the release of their second album. The surviving members of the band renamed themselves and became synth pop giants New Order.
Disorder has an upbeat start until the melancholy vocal, which will be the main feature of this album begins. Day of the Lords, is slow and epic with a bit more of an aggressive vocal, there is more of a gothic vibe to this song. The drums on Candidate are strong, but I’m definitely feeling miserable now. The lyrics on Insight don’t get any happier but this is a nicely made song and the keyboard part is a bit of a New Order premonition. New Dawn Fades has lovely atmospheric guitars and a beautiful intro. This is another track that feels like a forerunner, this time of the wider Manchester scene of the 1980s. She’s Lost Control which is widely considered to be this album’s stand out track, has a kind of military beat that goes through the whole song, it’s quite menacing but it’s certainly a good song. Shadowplay continues the strong bass lines that have been a feature across this album but with a more prominent guitar, indeed the instrumental parts are all really strong on this one. Interzone is the fastest, most obviously punky track, which for me makes it the highlight (I know that’s not the point of this album, but I just can’t help it). I Remember Nothing starts with feedback, it’s very slow and measured with lots of use of unusual things, like breaking glass to create the sound.
This album is definitely a big step forward from the punk scene Joy Division originally came from and the band were influenced by Kraftwork’s electronic music and David Bowie’s Berlin albums to experiment with different ways of making sound. The overriding feel of it is sparse, spacey, full of fades and gaps with monotone vocals and the bass and drums more prominent than the guitar - it’s the complete opposite of The Jam. The theme of every song is sad and painful. There are some similarities with PiL but Unknown Pleasures is much more coherent as a whole than First Issue. I can’t say that I enjoyed this album all that much (although it did grow on me a bit on the second listen), but then I like my pain and misery loud with lots of shouting, so I’m not really the intended audience.
Despite not being for low-brow types like me, Joy Division’s legacy could be seen throughout the 1980s and 1990s Unknown Pleasures specifically influenced contemporaries U2 and The Cure and the band themselves influenced Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, The Editors, Bloc Party and gothic rock generally. The mood of Joy Division’s music was also very important for the Manchester alternative scene and of course this album’s cover art continues to grace the t-shirts and tote bags of all self-respecting hipsters.