The first thoughts associated with Joy Division are an overrated album, a dead guy, depressing minimalist rock, and off key vocals. But stereotyping is wrong kiddies, and gets you suspended or shot at if you do it. Don't get me wrong though, pretty much all the first impressions of Joy Division are dead on. Vocalist Ian Curtis hung himself, sang off key, and the quartet of Sumner, Hook, Morris, and Curtis created music that at times droned on depressingly with basically rhythm section and sparse guitar populating their song structures. But the stereotype that causes issue between debating musical elitists is just how good Joy Division's second studio album, Closer
really is. A lot of fuss is made about it by the fans, but the general public is split on just how good the album is. Thus the jury is out. But one thing is certain. It's quite dark. Ian Curtis hung himself before it's released, and it shows in the lyrics of the album. But before Joy Division made that stark piece of music, they did put out an album beforehand. And interestingly enough, this album was more up-tempo, less frightening, and more amateurish than it's successor. Unknown Pleasures
, Joy Division's debut, is faster, weirder, more minimal, and more fun then the musical eulogy that was Closer
. Ian Curtis having fun immediately puts a look of confusion on the jaded rock music critic. How could this man of unstable mind have any fun when writing songs? Blasphemy! Ian Curtis should make us all want to die with him! Dumb ***. But before you get your knickers in a knot, know this. Unknown Pleasures
may be a livelier record than Closer
, but it is also more amateur, less well-executed, and forgettable when compared to the defining album that was to follow it.
Unfortunately for this quartet, their music is talked about not in it's own right, but as being ripped off by countless bands after Joy Division's career came to an end. Bands (falsely) accused of stealing their sound include indie idols Interpol, Interpol knockoffs Editors, Interpol-knockoffs-Editors knockoffs She Wants Revenge, the list goes on. It's a sad fate for Joy Division to be mentioned in sentences with Editors and She Wants Revenge in them, considering they sound nothing alike. While they're all minimalist rock bands with baritone lead singers, Joy Division has a sound all their own. Granted it may not be a fantastic one, but they are and should be counted as their own rock band, not grouped with imitators. Joy Division can go to both ends of the dark spectrum, whether it be lively speed or funeral marching beauty. Album opener Disorder
kicks things off with drummer Stephen Morris pushing the tempo forward, and Peter Hook enters next with octave jumping basslines. The song is fast, almost punky, and Ian Curtis, does some actual singing compared to Closer
's eternally depressed sighs and mumbles. It's something very unexpected. A dance track. And though Joy Division can knock out a club banger like a gothic 50 Cent, the very next song, Day Of The Lords
, is a sad, nearly hypnotizing diddy, in which slowly paced drums and stuttery guitar underline a typical Curtis limerick of "This is the room, the start of it all, No portrait so fine, only sheets on the wall, I've seen the nights, filled with bloodsport and pain, And the bodies obtained. Where Will It End?" Spooky stuff, but the potential to hit these lines with fiery potency is sorely unfulfilled with Mr. Curtis' being a smidge or two flat all the time. The crescendoing sneering bridge of the song puts a haunting finish to the song, but it's not enough to save the song from being thrown into the pile as a typical Joy Division piece. This issue plagues Unknown Pleasures
. Many of the songs fall flat, or are sung flat, with no true standouts. Interestingly enough, this problem haunts all of the "Joy Division imitators" as well...
For those more familiar with Closer
, Unknown Pleasures
will come as a bit of a surprise. As mentioned before, it shows the livelier side of Joy Division, but it also shows things about Ian Curtis, the band, and insights into Closer
itself. For example, the bassline to Closer
's hardest rocking track "Twenty-Four Hours", is almost an exact duplicate of the one used in mid-album mid-tempo track Insight
. If that's not weird enough, the bassline almost mimics the vocal hook of the directionless Candidate
. If at first and second you don't succeed, try try again, apparently. Ian Curtis's vocal delivery feels tired on both tracks, as though he himself is getting bored in the repetitive nature of the tracks. Curtis does have his moments on Unknown Pleasures
, such as the enthused delivery of classic rocker Shadowplay
, where he spits lyrics like "In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more. As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor, And with cold steel, odour on their bodies made a move to connect, But I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left." Shadowplay
serves as something as a showcase for all the bands talents. Curtis sings his dark lines with edge for once, Bernard Sumner bends and picks through several good guitar interludes, Morris gets a rare chance to push tempo, and Peter Hook gets to be Peter Hook. Then they all go *** it up in the next song with the utterly ridiculous Wilderness
, where Hook plays a stupidly catchy bassline, and Curtis just mimics the line with less-than lyrics. This all comes back to the big problems with Unknown Pleasures
: Unfulfilled potential, and disappointingly amateurish songwriting from the men who would create arguably the greatest dark album of all time.
Joy Division's issues don't stem from the musicianship, for sure. Largely the fault comes from Ian Curtis's vocals. While his voice is fitting for Joy Division's style, as proven on Closer
, he's not even close to on key for album finale I Remember Nothing
, where he's a half step sharp on his opening line "We were strangers", then a half step flat for the repeat of it. It's a horrible pity, considering the backing of the song sounds like a cross between Talking Heads' "The Overload" and Closer
's "The Eternal", two of the greatest drone ballads of all time, and I Remember Nothing
at first sounds like it could well stand up to those masterful pieces, but Curtis butchers it nearly to the point of unlistenability. It's a shame for Joy Division, at least it was in their earlier days, for the instruments are consistently tight and expert. Peter Hook is cited as of the most influential bass players by current skilled pluckers Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Carlos D of Interpol. While Morris's drum work, at least on this album, are not enough to put his name with the likes of Moon and Bonham, they serve their purpose, and the same can be said for Bernard Sumner. The musicians of Joy Division don't seem to have the problem, at least not on the surface, but Curtis's vocals do really point out the flaw. His lyrics seem to have an air of sameness to them, and most of the times, he sounds as though he's not "feeling" the song, to use a vocabulary-challenged musician phrase. To paraphrase album Disorder
, Curtis has got the spirit, but he's lost the feeling.
does have a song on it that is unlike any other Joy Division has put out. It puts the punk in post-punk. The song is Interzone
, a wild barnburner that is heavy on effect and guitar. Sumner blows away Curtis in this song, with feedback, soloing, and anything else he can get his hands on. Morris can barely keep up with his 16th note push. Curtis echoes himself with studio tricks and doesn't mess it up too much actually. It's one of the moments of Unknown Pleasures
where Curtis is a positive. Those moments come up maybe 50-60% of the time, and thankfully this is one of them. Interzone
is Joy Division's hardest track and shows what Joy Division could have been had they fulfilled their potential. Unfortunately on Unknown Pleasures
, this happens much less then it should, and 5 or 6 tracks come up short of amazing, and are just fair. No track is truly terrible, save arguably for Wilderness
, but only one or two tracks are really good. Because of the amateurish nature and missing feel of the album, Unknown Pleasures
stands as a solid album for the men of Joy Division, but greater things were to come.
Or worse things, considering Ian Curtis killed himself after completing Closer