Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

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Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division
Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

Album Released: 1979

Unknown Pleasures ::: Artwork

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2.Day Of The Lords4:43
5.New Dawn Fades4:47
6.She's Lost Control3:40
10.I Remember Nothing6:00


Everyone from U2 to Nirvana have some aspect of their music rooted in Unknown Pleasures, one of the most influential albums of all time.

Rock's moans of despair in the 1990's were first heard here, yet on this album Curtis' gloom is tempered and at times undercut by the exhilaration of his bandmates, who are clearly thrilled to be in the studio, for the first time able to work out all sorts of interesting ideas. The tension makes for a highly immediate and compelling listen.

Bernard Sumner's simple jagged guitar lines are more upfront than they'd ever be again, but even at this juncture his guitar serves mostly as a decorative blur - the heart of the band lies with Peter Hook's subliminal bass and Steve Morris' robotic drums, both of which act as lead instruments. Drawing from the darker dirge-like side of Heavy Metal - "Interzone" sounds like Black Sabbath at 78rpm - as well as the electronic coldly European sounds of Eno-era Bowie, Joy Division create a startlingly original and highly unsettling post-punk sound.

It begins brightly enough with the textbook hooks and forward momentum of "Disorder", with its lights are flashing, cars are crashing, the actuals sounds of which appear later in "Shadowplay". Very quickly though it moves into dark uncharted territory, as Curtis shares a drink and walks outside, looking for a friend of his at the city centre, or at least one honest man, only to find "Wilderness". He falls to his knees, begging to know where will it end?. Then he witnesses a loved one break down in the absolute classic "She's Lost Control". At 22, he remembers when he was young, his voice already echoing from beyond the grave.

Such obsessiveness might sound melodramatic and overwrought in other hands, but Curtis' makes the listener truly feel as if he has taken one step into the void and is falling, dragging you with him. Producer Martin Hannett gives the music a coldly efficient sheen to add to this icily Teutonic masterpiece. Nothing else the band did ever came close to this peak, Unknown Pleasures is how modern rock got to where it is.

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise (blogging at Creative Noise)

I don't think I'll ever be sure what to think of Joy Division, or the brief life of frontman Ian Curtis, but there's something about their two original albums that does grab me, despite me thinking that I shouldn't really think they're all that good.

Bleak and dreary, and yet undeniably memorable, this debut, Unknown Pleasures, remains a favourite with a number of music fans, and it also influenced many bands of the eighties.

Ian Curtis’ deep moaning voice (which, it must be noted, is pretty terrible and flat) recalls The Doors’ Jim Morrison, while Peter Hook’s distinctive bass paved the way for what New Order and later The Cure, would do as the years moved on, and together with Stephen Morris’ catching drum rhythms and scattering of klunking sound effects, this has a certain air of intrigue.

It’s up to people’s tastes as to how far this kind of thing can go, but “Day of the Lords” has a certain haunting power, and “She’s Lost Control”, despite notes of all types seeming to be in the wrong places at times, manages to be notably catchy.

The topics aren’t clear, but one would imagine them to be quite negative, and Ian Curtis’ suicide the following year, just before the release of the band’s second (and better) album Closer seems to support that.

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by Reviewer: The Doctor

Joy Division left behind a phenomenally consistent back catalogue. Their debut Unknown Pleasures is the third Joy Division album I've listened to, and I've yet to hear a defective song - the band performed with an intensity and authority that enlivened their lesser songs, and propelled their best material to 'mythic rock' status.

While the songwriting on Unknown Pleasures is as strong as on Substance and Closer, the album is my least favourite of the three, due to the relative homogeneity of its textures. So most of the album sounds relatively similar, causing some individual tracks to lose their impact.

Fortunately though, the chosen texture is punk, making Unknown Pleasures sonically unique - it's a reconciliation between Joy Division's precision and austerity, and punk's amateurism and aggression.

The most out-of-place track is the opening "Disorder", which presages New Order with its mechanical upbeat drum sound, a sharp contrast to the thrashy gloominess of the rest of the album.

And the strongest contenders for 'mythic rock' status are "She's Lost Control" and the dramatic closer "I Remember Nothing", autobiographical tales concerning Curtis' epilepsy and his failing marriage. The album version of "She's Lost Control" is substantially different and superior to the single version featured on Substance.

Elsewhere there's plenty of musical ideas and inspired playing, like the catchy bassline of "Wilderness" and the nice melody of "Shadowplay".

Unknown Pleasures probably deserves a higher rating, but it's arguably a smidgen inferior to Substance and Closer, so it's rated accordingly. But anyone interested in Joy Division will want to own this album anyway, as there are too many important moments to ignore.

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by Reviewer: Fyfeopedia (blogging at Fyfeopedia [Defunct])

I listen to music for at least some kind of subjectively pleasurable experience, so most of what I said about Joy Divison's second album Closer would apply to what must surely have been intended to be their ironically-titled debut, Unknown Pleasures.

As with Closer, the most favourable aspect of Unknown Pleasures is the tightly efficient musianship of Curtis' backing band, rather than Curtis himself. For as only-too-plainly demonstrated on album opener "Disorder", Curtis' singing ability is negligible - he can't carry a tune, rather he sort of semi-recites his morose lyrics in what is a very 'ordinary' voice - and when he does attempt to 'sing', as at the end of that track, he just sort of screeches and wails, badly.

The overall tone of Unknown Pleasures is unremittingly bleak and miserable, making the album about as much fun to listen to as say, watching grainy black-and-white newsreel footage of the Holocaust, or YouTube documentaries about the siege of Stalingrad, that kind of thing ... overwhelmingly oppressive in other words, a relentless downer.

So the irony of this album's title only adds to that of the band's name, as both 'joy' and 'pleasure' are characterstics that are conspicuous by their absence in the band's music. And whilst I'd acknowledge that as artistic statements the band's two albums are notable as musical representations of misery and depression, that's not something I'd want to willingly subject myself to, anymore than I'd want images of animals being slaughtered hanging on the walls of my home.

Yet in spite of that, it's always been considered kinda 'cool and trendy' amongst a certain class of pundit to laud the merits of Joy Division's two albums, and consequently elevate Curtis to the status of quasi-sainthood, as some sort of tortured soul. Fact is though, without the happenstance of a highly-accomplished band behind him, Curtis would just be another anonymous psychiatric outpatient spilling out what are his disturbing mental health issues into a scrapbook of 'poetic' scribblings. I suppose he at least gives voice to the existence of such circumstance.

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by Reviewer: bluemoon

So distorted and thin, distorted and thin. Where will it end? Where will it END?? ... those were my exact thoughts upon first hearing this album.

Subsequent listens have softened my position somewhat. If you don’t mind being a shoulder for Ian Curtis to cry on (or maybe stare blankly at) for 40 minutes, you should sort of enjoy yourself.

Unknown Pleasures is a matching set of post-punk ditties, with repetitive thump-thump rhythms, plus some nifty touches such as odd synthesizer noises and breaking glass, and bombastic Jim Morrison-meets-David Byrne singing.

Joy Division seem content to stay in some indefinite state between melodic poppiness and raw rockin’ energy, without ever fully achieving either. The album as a whole has quite a nice atmosphere, but style alone can’t carry the music, not when it’s hobbled by a flaky proto-80’s production. In fact, Unknown Pleaaures has one of the mankiest drum sounds I’ve ever heard, which is a real shame on what is a minimalist beat-driven set.

The songs aren't exactly diverse. “She’s Lost Control” is catchy I guess; “Insight” has a fun bloopy synth breakdown; “Day of the Lords” and “Disorder” both manage to rock out pretty convincingly. And the slow gothic crawl of “I Remember Nothing” makes for an effective mood piece.

This is a good album, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t say it excites me to the very depths of my soul. It’s just sorta 'there'.

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by Reviewer: S M Hellebore

Unknown Pleasures was a landmark album in every aspect. Almost everything about it is unforgettable ... the artwork is as minimal as can be, yet instantly recognisable anywhere: '100 consecutive pulses from the pulsar CP 1919' - readings from the first radio pulsar ever found. Does that mean anything? Good question.

It's one thing to look at the cover and ponder its possible meanings, and something else is play the album. The music deserves some detailed explanation I think ...

Joy Division and their producer Martin Harnett developed a quite unique sound for the band, and that sound defines the album ... take a drumkit that sounds rather 'thin', but add a shivery tail of reverb to it; take a bass that doesn't always sound like a bass, because the notes it plays are too high; add a guitar that almost always sounds like an unclear, distorted haze, and spice it up with various small synth seasonings. And lastly, lay the unhappy lyrics and low-pitched vocals on top.

Whilst that's the formula for the entire album, it doesn't mean the tracks are all copies of each other - only the production is the same, and in this case, it gives the album a lot of unity and cohesion, which makes the material three times as powerful.

The best showcase for that 'sound' is the opening track, "Disorder", one of the fastest songs here. It opens with the drums, and then there comes the bass, that just keeps repeating a line of three notes, but they're so distant from each other that the bass doesn't provide any kind of foundation to the song, and because it's not grounded in something, it just levitates ... the guitar produces a hazy mess of two or three notes, and when the synthesizer starts playing whooshing sounds like a cold wind blowing right through you, the snowstorm is complete. Not only is the track an ideal opener, it's also the song that gets constantly stuck in my head, making it arguably my favourite.

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by Reviewer: Fernando Canto (blogging at Sir Mustapha's Album Reviews [Defunct])

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.

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by Reviewer: Capt Bonanza (blogging at Capn Marvel's Bonanza [Defunct])