Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures [Finely Tuned #4]
To anyone who’s ever followed the development of indie and punk rock, Joy Division is a band that has stood out in the abundance of bands out there. An English rock band, and pioneers of the seminal post-punk movement, it consisted of guitarist Bernard Sumner, vocalist Ian Curtis, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris. Characterised by a gloomy and dark mood, Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division’s first of only two full length albums, is a classic in its genre. With minimalist rock, Ian Curtis’s emotionally charged vocals, rises and falls that bring about a sense of impending doom, and lyrics that touch every listener’s soul – Unknown Pleasures is an album that stays with you forever.
The album starts off powerfully with ‘Disorder’. Ian’s lyrics describing his isolation and detachment create a stark contrast to the catchy riff and a danceable beat. ‘Day of the Lords’ follows with a much slower characteristic, in which Ian bemoans his “weakness”, that is, his epileptic seizures. After another slower and fear-inducing track ‘Candidate’, comes ‘Insight’, a high-point of Martin Hannett’s extraordinary production on the album. The end of the first half on the album is brought about by ‘New Dawn Fades’, a song many regard as Joy Division’s best. The bassline, lead guitar and Ian’s powerful words really come together well. He describes how his marriage is falling apart and even mentions suicide to his wife, to which she responds, “A loaded gun won’t set you free.”
‘She’s Lost Control’ and ‘Shadowplay’ give an energetic start to the second half of the album. ‘Wilderness’ follows, but brings nothing special to the album. It might seem like the only weak point in the album. ‘Interzone’ is a unique track, with Peter Hook joining Ian in vocal duties. The album ends with ‘I Remember Nothing’, a fitting end to an album that was based on the theme of isolation and detachment.
In hindsight, many of Ian’s lyrics seem like an indication of the tragedy that would occur on the eve of the group’s first North American tour. His epileptic seizures and a strained marriage were taking their toll on him in the form of depression. Ian’s tormented mind came up with great lyrics, which seemed like ominous indications of his suicide. The gloom made sense only in hindsight – Unknown Pleasures brings out emotions that we normally tend to hide behind a brave face.
This album is as much Martin Hannett’s as the band’s: his production style and Joy Division’s music being a match made in heaven. From the curious album cover to the lyrics on each song, Unknown Pleasures is an enigma that every music lover must experience once. Joy Division inspired a large number of indie, punk rock and post-punk bands, but despite their massive influence in these genres, their music has a unique feel that separates them from the rest.
Finely Tuned is The MIT Post’s weekly album review column. It is an attempt to add a new dimension to the way Manipal looks at music. Every week, we will bring you a fresh album; carefully picked from a catalogue composed of both critically acclaimed mainstream releases and noteworthy independent ones.