Review Summary: Unknown Pleasures is a milestone in music history, everyone must hear this at least once.
In 1979, Joy Division released one of the most influential albums ever: Unknown Pleasures. It’s also one of my favourites. It’s hard for me to review it, but I’ll try!
1979… The bomb could fall at any moment, and most people hated life. While most punk bands made aggressive music to put their anger into, Joy Division made a slower, more emotional variety on punk rock, in which bass and drums were more important than the guitar: Post-punk.
The music of Joy Division is very hard to describe. Joy Division consists of a drummer who plays the same drumbeat over and over again (Stephen Morris), a guitarist who is shy (Bernard Sumner), a bass guitarist who thinks he plays lead guitar (Peter Hook) and a paranoid, depressive, shy, suicidal singer with often epileptic fits (Ian Curtis). The music may sound strange, dull and depressing at first, but it will grow on you and you’ll love it.
The album starts with a fast song, Disorder
. A simple, but great song. First the drums come in with a simple drum beat, then comes a melodic bass riff by Peter Hook, then the guitar kicks in with a great riff. This all sounds quite happy, until Ian Curtis starts singing. I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me my the hand/Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?
. Ian Curtis was a normal person, just like everyone else. But he couldn’t feel the pleasures
of a normal person, those were unknown
to him (get it now why they chose this title for the album?). This song is the most accessible one, and even after a lot of listens the ‘fun’ of this song won’t wear off. I’ve got the spirit/But lose the feeling.
After this there comes a much slower, heavier song: Day Of The Lords
. A slow song with a hypnotising, stuttering melody, but a lot of aggression. It’s one of the most depressing ones I’ve ever heard. It kinda reminds me of Black Sabbath
. The line Where will it end?
gets me every time. Especially the synthesizer (which is played during than line) is beautifully done. Very stunning, but Day Of The Lords is a kind of a grower: At first you won’t like it, but after a few listens, you’ll love it. At first this wasn’t my favourite song on the album, but now it is.
Now we get to hear a more quiet, slow side of the band, with Candidate
. It’s about a politician who has good meanings with his plans, but he fails. Drums and bass form the melody in this song. The guitar sound pretty strange here (thanks to the production of Martin Hannett), it sounds like it is really far away from you. That makes the song pretty haunting. You may love this slow, quiet side of the band or detest it, but it sure adds up to the variety of the album.
is a catchy, though strange song. Good use of keyboards here. The ‘keyboard-solo’ at the end sounds like a fight with spaceships in Star Trek. This song sounds quite happy in comparison to the previous songs, although the lyrics aren’t. But I don't care anymore/I've lost the will to want more
The next song is also one of the most depressing ones I’ve ever heard: New Dawn Fades
. It starts with some strange synth sounds, then drums and bass kick in. Then Bernard Sumner starts playing his guitar. The riff he’s playing at that moment sounds a lot like a riff in Black Sabbath
’s War Pigs. The lyrics are really at their best here, especially the line Directionless, so plain to see/A loaded gun won’t set you free/So you say
. That line always sends shivers down my spine. Really emotional. Ian Curtis may not be the best singer, but he has a very emotional delivery which works excellent. This song was later covered by Moby
, but the original version of the song remains the best. I walked on water/Ran through fire/Can’t seem to feel it anymore
She’s Lost Control
is probably the most known song on this album, and is a fan favourite. The song has a simple, peculiar sounding drum beat. That’s because producer Martin Hannett let Stephen Morris play on the roof of the studio. Hannett was obsessed by drum sounds, and wanted a perfect drum sound, so that’s why those drum beats of Stephen Morris sound quite strange on this album, but it also adds to the uniqueness of this album. The drum beat is repeated through the entire song, but it’s not annoying at all. The bass guitar riff is also superb here. After each verse, there is a short guitar interlude. This song is about a woman Ian Curtis knew when he was young. She was epileptic, and committed suicide because of that. But Ian didn’t knew he was going to do the same thing because he was going to get epileptics too. What’s quite creepy is that he wrote this song not long before he got his first epileptic attack.
is in my opinion the best song on this album. It starts with some quiet cymbal drumming and bassing. After 30 seconds, there’s an explosion of aggression with a great guitar riff. After each verse, there’s a short guitar interlude by Bernard Sumner. The guitar sounds pretty atmospheric that really works well in this song. The guitar solo at the end is superb, it SOUNDS like Bernard Sumner is actually pretty talented! In fact he isn’t, I saw a live performance of this song in which he only played on one string. Not that I think Bernard Sumner is bad at all, he may not be a talented guitarist musically, but his guitar tone adds to the atmosphere of the song. I don’t really know what the lyrics are about, I think it’s about a murder in the city. This song was later covered by The Killers
After this, Wilderness
begins. It starts with a bass riff, then drums kick in, then the guitars and the Ian Curtis starts singing. The song is about prisoners who are getting the death sentence. Ian Curtis’ delivery is very emotional here, especially the last few lines. I saw the tears as they cried/They had tears in their eyes/Tears in their eyes/Tears in their eyes/Tears in their eyes.
Now we get to hear the more punky side of the band with Interzone
, the fastest and happiest song on this album (well, except for the lyrics, those are never happy), in which Peter Hook does backing vocals. The guitar riff is quiet catchy. The drums are not really fast but strangely, they fit the song. Stephen Morris isn’t the best drummer out there, but his simple, strange sounding drum beats work pretty well.
I Remember Nothing
is the album’s closer, and is a bit of an experimental track, in which Ian Curtis plays guitar. The song is pretty hard to describe. It’s very slow (turtle speed) and bass and drums form the melody. Me in my own world
(which is a line in this song) is the best description for this song. Ian Curtis actually tries to sing here. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee were strangers!
. Great song and a good way to end the album.
This is a superb album… But you may ask yourself: What makes the album so great? Is it the lyrics of Ian Curtis, who deal with depression, loneliness and anger? Is it the style of playing, in which drums and bass are more important than the guitar? Is it the album cover? Is it because the album was very influential for a lot of bands (like The Cure and Interpol)? Or is it the production of Martin Hannett? It’s hard to say why exactly, all these factors form one of the greatest albums ever. You get to hear many, many different sides of the band, as they make aggressive, depressive, experimental, punky and slow, hypnotising songs. That makes the album also good to relax to. Joy Division may not have had talented musicians (their music is very simple), but they really knew how to touch your soul. It’s a shame Ian Curtis committed suicide, because they could make more beautiful things like this and Closer. Unknown Pleasures is a milestone in music history, everyone must hear this at least once. It’s superb.