If in the book of British punk/rock the Sex Pistols said 'Fuck You!' and The Clash said 'This is fucked!', Joy Division were the first band of note to say 'I'm fucked'.
That certainly generated a lot of grief for these Mancusian party poopers, believe me! But if a band pretty much invent (1) goth (2) shoegaze (3) New Wave dance and (4) desperate suicide when on the verge of breaking it big, something tells me they've got a lot to live down in terms of public image.
As usual, the public takes a good idea and then perverts it into an unintentionally hilarious subculture with obsessive attention to only the most hokey supernatural claptrap and oddly sexless fetishism. What shouldn't happen however, is to dump Joy Division in with that mess ... they were a punk band by profession, and even though they have about as much in common with The Ramones music-wise as James Taylor, they still took punk's independence and lack of regard for convention as their battle cry ... they simply preferred to make their points in a much quieter, more paranoically intense way.
Their's is a music knit from dark nights of the soul, where the bass rumbles, and the guitar provides glimmers of light through the densely-packed trees. It's a slow walk, but it's a deliberate and extremely carefully planned one, built on solid rhythmic hooks and engaging leads from heart-wrenching vocalist extraordinaire Ian Curtis.
Oftentimes my breath is taken simply by Joy Division's ability to sneak up on me ... not with tasteless scare tactics, but by just furrowing their way under my skin and into a place where I can look at them and say 'these people are human', and while they're a tad dour, I identify with their isolation and slipping hold on happiness.
Joy Division weren't Goths, but they were gothic, they weren't dancers, but they played danceable music, and they weren't 'rock' geniuses, but they were geniuses.
The band had an extremely short lifespan, beginning in 1977 in Manchester following a Sex Pistols show. They played slow, rhythmically intense music that sounds like part Bowie / part Roxy Music euro/rock, part disco, part dub reggae, part Hawkwind, and three-quarters sexy stripper music. Though everyone credits John Lydon for coming up with Metal Box
, that kind of music actually came first from Joy Division, and it's a lot less painful to listen to all the way through when done by the originators - bassist Peter Hook should be, yet somehow isn't, considered some sort of god among long-necked four-stringers.
The band made a debut album - Warsaw
(only available as a bootleg/reissue) - but canned it because the producer used synthesizers without their permission, and they wanted full artistic control and shit. Can you imagine a band nowadays yanking their own debut album because of a few unwanted synth overdubs? Not bloody likely, I'd say.
Joy Division caught a buzz with this their actual debut, Unknown Pleasures
, following it up with some legendary live shows, then made a second album, Closer
, that displayed artistic growth.
The band seemed on the verge of stardom, with singles in the charts (the British charts that is - this was 1980, so no doubt pioneering titans of Western civilization Sister Sledge were too busy clogging up all the top spots on the American Top 40), and a US tour coming up, but - as so often is the case - the thought of going to a place as depressingly superficial and uncool as the United States was too much for seizure-prone lead singer Curtis, who found a way out of his performance contract by cutting off the flow of oxygen to his brain with a piece of rope.
As if all that wasn't sunshiny enough already, the band's name was Nazi code for concentration camp barracks holding female prisoners who were used as free brothels by the fascist scum. Nice!
I've actually had to spend a few days psyching myself up to review Joy Division's discography. I don't want to be too flippant, too silly with these guys, but then on the other hand that's exactly what my heart is telling me to do ... Joy Division is the highest of the high in terms of over-seriousness, to the point of near-parodic proportions. I mean, the guy killed himself so he wouldn't have to tour America, for God's sake! What could be more over-dramatic than that?
And though I really really love Unknown Pleasures
, finding it quite moving in places, and provocative in others, I still haven't decided which approach to take to what is a brilliant little stack of digitized metallic-coated resin pancakes. Reviews after all never provide a proper description of how an album sounds.
Okay, let's see ... if you think the idea of slow, electric minimalist dance music played on rock instruments, with a guy talk-singing like a cross between Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk, and Bowie (probably Ian Curtis's three favorites), about dreadful end-of-the-rope stuff shot full of phrases like Where will it end?
and She's lost control ... again
, with no love songs, no happy songs, nothing that even hints that life has much to offer beyond stale cigarette smoke and the heartbreak of finding yourself alone, then Unknown Pleasures
is for you.
Bassist Peter Hook sets the scene by playing extremely steady U2-like bass patterns (Joy Division were a huge influence on U2, at least in the early-80's, except Joy Division never acted like they farted Chanel No.5, and I don't think Curtis is much of a church-goin' Christian). And the drummer acts like he's Lee 'Scratch' Perry's inhouse skin-boy, but slower.
In fact, this music is so frigging slow, so intentionally slow, so compulsively slow, that I find it actually changing my brain patterns to match what the band are trying to sell me. What makes Unknown Pleasures
so heinous is the insidious way it drills into your bones, like all good dance music must. It's trance/rock, music for a new d-generation to drink Scotch and eat phenobarbitols to.
The guitarist is the singular influence for the Edge, except he always plays it close to his vest. When Albrecht's guitars feint and hunt, it leaves me gasping, when his guitars howl, I'm taken like a virgin at a frat party, and he's at his best when he's playing hardly at all. I hope you realise what a compliment that all is.
What might be off-putting for some unaware innocent who wanders into this album by mistake, is how little the band rely on the usual rock dictionary, especially the punk edition. Possibly the stunningly grabbing intro to "New Dawn Fades" doesn't sound so shocking nowadays, after 20+years of The Cure and alt.rock to water it down, but listen to how important each part is to the puzzle, and although the basic track never alters from a four-descending chord thing, Curtis's progressive levels of desperation ring harder and harder until the guitar gets a 'solo' that allows the listener to catch their breath.
So this is a band that plays in the spaces, who leaves things unfettered for the listener's mind to fill in. If they played faster they might sound like Wire, and if they played slower they'd go backwards.
I really love "She's Lost Control", probably the album's most rabble-rousing effort, that followed by the only half-speed rocker "Shadowplay". There's some evidence of Krautrock on "Interzone", some Stooges near-catatonia on "We Will Fall", and even some grinding near-metal with "Day of the Lords".
One thing you're guaranteed to get from this album is mood, for - as its perfect artwork indicates - it's dark, yet shot through with little streaks of white, so that whenever the message gets too heavy, the next track picks things up again, even if it's to just go further down the mortal coil.
Posted: Sunday 5th May 2019 9:11 AM
The Flaming Lips have some things in common with The Butthole Surfers ... similar philosophies and roots / from the same region of the country / both bands started off at about the same time, and had the same flirtation with radio accessibility in the form of a fluke hit.
However, when the Lips made the jump over the cliff of Good Taste and began changing their approach, they still made music that sounded like them, not techno-distracted cardboard cutouts of themselves like the Surfers.
While continuing the process of maturation that Bulletin
is actually better-constructed than that record, and the band's return to semi-obscurantism is a healthy sign they won't soon be turning into Tom Petty or anything like that.
The focal-point of the album is the title character, who turns into a hero because she knows karate and won't let the pink robots defeat her. The battle is played out in a sort of Tarkus
-style suite, with all fight noises represented by electronic instruments, although a much more danceable version that features better use of analog synthesizers than Emerson, Lake & Palmer's effort.
The Moog is now the instrument of choice for the band, though it's hard to say what exactly got selected from the bandroom for this record, as there are so many textures and timbres harvey-wallbanging everywhere that it's easier to just describe the sound as 'synthesized' - synthetic drums and strings and other hard-to-master instruments are everywhere.
Strangely then, Yoshimi
at times sounds like it could've been made by Tangerine Dream, then at other times it sounds like Tom Tom Club, and would probably appeal to fans of either of those bands. What it absolutely won't appeal to is fans of guitar rock, especially the sort of heavy psych/rock that used to be The Flaming Lips' calling card. So I love this album in a different way but almost as strongly as Holy Grails like Priest Driven Ambulance
or Hit To Death
That's because even though the songs all sound about 20 bpm too slow, and the subdued melodicism could quite possibly pass through you like a Taco Bell Gordita, leaving even less of a trace behind, it can also feel a lot more like an irresistible force than previous albums.
The band's vision is exceedingly clear on this album, and where I felt parts of Soft Bulletin
were kinda naggy, and was way too plain-spoken and insistent for the Lips, this album leaves some things for the listener to discover. I also like how I don't feel directed by the music ... is that 'Hand of God' Mellotron to be rejoiced, or feared? It's all very ambivalent.
As for the songs, I guess I feel some of them work their magic, and some are just pleasurable to listen to. "Are You a Hypnotist??" and "In the Morning of the Magicians" - both of which could be considered 'multi-part suites' ("Magicians" almost sounds like prog/rock-lite) - as well as the "Yoshimi" section, are just very successful as music, very transportative. And though "It's Summertime" is near-filler, it's the best pure-pop track on the album - very Beatle-esque, and very uplifting.
Many bands are able to tear shit down all the time, so it's very hard to find a band that so unselfishly builds people up and not come across like Bono. Well, Wayne Coyne certainly doesn't come across like some fame-crazed egomaniac, but he does seem like someone who has a very gentle connection to the world, one where his childlike observations actually have a lot of merit, such as Do you realise that everyone you know someday will die ... you realise the sun doesn't go down, it's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round ...
' in "Do You Realise??".
If I had to have a stranger tell me I was terminally ill and was going to die soon, I'd want it to be Wayne Coyne - I'd like to get a little of his life-affirming positivity - All we ever had is now
is fucking right.
Posted: Saturday 25th May 2019 10:40 AM