I recently listened to Peter Hook’s ‘Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division’ and it made me fall in love with Joy Division again. They were one of the first bands I loved and they pretty much influenced every sound I went after. I’ve always thought Ian Curtis was a genius and the question of “what could have been” goes on. Hook, Sumner and Morris are all pioneers in their own right too and deserve just as much credit for the music Joy Division left behind. Although Hook says quite a number of times that they wanted a quicker, more punky sound, their producer Martin Hannett insisted that his way of production would define them; it did. Hook and Bernard Sumner weren’t fans of his techniques (Hook eventually grew to love ‘Unknown Pleasures’).
‘Closer’ is an absolute masterpiece in my opinion. It was only after the death of Ian Curtis that fans and critics really pulled his lyrics apart, discovering a man who was in trouble, on the edge, in the process. The problem was that no one saw it at the time. He had his visible troubles such as his seizures but he continued to play and record, telling the band he was fine. The sound of the album was also a progression from ‘Unknown Pleasures’ and something I’m sure has been pointed out before is how New Order kept that progression going. Their debut ‘Movement’ feels like the next record Joy Division would have made and likewise with ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ after. Once again, what if?
The record opens with ‘Atrocity Exhibition’. “This is the way, step inside” sings Curtis against the throbbing bass and cutting guitar. These lyrics, like the rest of the song, detail the struggles Curtis was experiencing at the time, seeing himself as a tool for others entertainment. This track has a certain menace about it and was more developed than anything you hear on ‘Unknown Pleasures’. ‘Isolation’ follows and with it you can almost hear the beginning of New Order. A fast paced track, the sound could almost make for a disco track if the lyrics weren’t so dark. Something you might notice in the next track, ‘Passover’ is that it has no chorus. Its place is taken by the music cementing the disturbing nature of the song,
“Safety is sat by the fire,
Sanctuary from these feverish smiles”
‘Colony’ does likewise, beginning with another ripping guitar riff which is quickly joined by bass and drums. It’s another song that when closely inspected we see the turmoil Curtis was going though, his outlook at the time and his impression of his own health. ‘A Means to an End’ has an evident melody where Curtis’s lyrics are much easier to hear compared to a lot of the record. The aggressive guitar and bass riff on this one are what make it stand out for me, Peter Hook controls it throughout. Speaking of Peter Hook, when you move onto ‘Heart and Soul’ you better be sitting. The bass riff here is sublime, no wonder the guy’s a legend! It’s a simple track in ways, it’s slowly pieced together and Curtis’s quiet vocals are eerily captivating, “Beyond this good is a terror” . Keep an ear out too for the playful bass right before the guitar takes centre stage around 2:15 minutes in. One of Joy Divisions best know tracks comes next, ‘Twenty Four Hours’. It’s opening threatens to explode and after a short wait it does. Just like a cheering crowd before the main act, that intro begs for Curtis to join and its a familiar story when he does. The daily struggle and uncertainty that affected him everyday.
Closing out the record are two more masterpieces. ‘The Eternal’ is a favourite of mine and it’s possibly the darkest track Joy Division have. That’s not why I love it but it’s a contributing factor. It’s the piano, gets me every time. It’s much more than just a song. You’ve to give it all of your attention to take meaning from it. ‘Decades’ features terribly dark lyrics such as mentions of “Hell’s door”. A beautiful sound, it’s one of the more dramatic tracks on the record.
I don’t need to say anything about Joy Division or how you should listen to them, but you should! Given their history and the fact that they have two highly acclaimed studio records, it should be obvious that the music they made is special. It is, it’s an experience. They’re a band whose music you never “just listen to”. They’re music is something you feel.
Photo Credit: flyingout.co.nz