Joy Division. We hardly knew ye. Joy Division and their lead singer Ian Curtis have a mysterious air surrounding them and their work. It may be due to Curtis’ 1980 suicide but I think that the music they created has a lot to do with it as well. They only made two albums together and both have reputations as being some of the best of their era’s. Unknown Pleasures is their debut album and the one I chose to review, but I could have easily written just as in depth about their last album Closer. One word common in reviews of this album is “dread”. The reason for that is simple: this album is as bleak as it gets. No happiness is to be found within the sleeve of Unknown Pleasures. Heck, the sleeve itself is the last pulses from a dying star. Before Dante enters Hell in his Inferno, he sees that the gates of Hell have the words “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enters Here” carved into them. They probably should have been engraved in the inner grooves of this too.
We start off with Joy Division’s best song Disorder. Most would say Love Will Tear Us Apart but I choose Disorder. It’s minimalistic sound and heavy repeated drum rhythm really set the mood for what is to come. By the time Ian Curtis has gotten to the part about Spirit and Feeling, you have a crack in your heart like The Liberty Bell. Day of The Lords shatters you heart beyond repair. It doesn’t get more haunting than Ian wailing “WHEN WILL IT ENNNNNNNNNND?” over and over until oblivion. Candidate is a slow-burner but once it grabs hold of you, you belong to it. Ian Curtis was gifted with the perfect voice for this type of album. He conveys hopelessness in every word he says. Insight starts out like a song from a horror movie soundtrack. It soon morphs into the brand of Post-Punk that Joy Division helped to create and popularize. It has something of a catchy chorus, which is surprising because we are knee-deep in the murky bog of Ian Curtis’ sorrow by this point. You can also see a hint of what would become New Order in the keyboard break of this track. New Dawn Fades is more of that Joy Division. You know? The guitars are droning and the drums beat their rhythm into you like the hammer of Thor. All while Ian Curtis looks into the void and the void looks back. That Joy Division.
The crushing despair is broken(at least in musical tone) with She’s Lost Control. Taken from Ian Curtis’ work with suicidal people. It’s got more of a rough texture than the hazy, pitch black songs that came before it. Now, Joy Division never wrote a happy song in all the time they were together, but this is a song that was destined to be a single. It’s really good, too. Shadowplay and Wilderness build more on the bleak sounds of the album and Ian Curtis gets more and more desperate. The man was a walking rain cloud. Everything finally comes to a head with the near-six minute ending track I Remember Nothing. Setting the stage for Closer, this is the track where Ian Curtis gives up. You can hear him breaking if you listen close enough.
Joy Division. We hardly knew ye. Joy Division would only release one more studio album, the claustrophobic and haunting Closer. Then Ian Curtis was gone. The remaining members became on of the best band of the 1980s(New Order) and Joy Division were left to be influences on thousands of bummed out rockers for years after. If you want to sob yourself into a stupor or just witness the birth of Post-Punk, Unknown Pleasures is required listening. Just remember: If you look into the void, you might not like what you find.