How is it that so many amazing singer-songwriters are or were depressed? Of course depression is an awful condition which I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to have, but at the same time: the people who suffer from it have provided the world with a few exceptionally intense and emotional lyrics. Jim Morrissey, Jon Bon Jovi, Kurt Cobain… Joy Division singer-songwriter Ian Curtis put the most spot-on words on paper by far. Besides the debut album Unknown Pleasures being a sweet-sounding album in itself, Ian is pouring his heart out here and that’s what makes it as wonderful as it is. Great debut.
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Band members at the time:
Ian Curtis – vocals
Bernard Sumner – guitar, keyboards
Peter Hook – bass
Stephen Morris – drums
Disorder opens with some soft drum rolls and a soothing bass line before the distorted guitars come cracking in to give the song that distinct, gloomy Joy Division sound. The lyrics really speak to me (‘I’ve got the spirit but lose the feeling,’) but are sung in a rather dull, monotone way that doesn’t really fit the faster-paced music. All in all a good song, but not extraordinary.
Day of the Lords is much more laid-back. Gentle, swaying guitars supported by a deep drum sound. It lacks the liveliness of Disorder: the dark, spooky mood fits the lyrics well. This is one of those songs where looking back it’s crystal-clear how down Curtis was. The chorus consists of a repetition of: ‘Where will it end, where will it end?’ Sung with such emotion at times it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Day of the Lords seems to almost be attached to Candidate, which is a very silent song and again has the pitch-black atmosphere. Minimalistic guitar picking on a clear canvas of cymbals serve as paper for Curtis to write his poetry on. And that poetry is quite catchy: ‘I tried to get to you, you treat me like this.’
Insight is incredibly similar to Candidate, it has exactly the same bass line and the vocal melody only slightly differs from the previous song. You would expect this to be annoying, but it’s not: it makes the whole album have a story. I liked Candidate, so I’m happy there’s another song exactly like it, though I prefer Candidate over Insight, mainly because of the lyrics.
New Dawn Fades starts out with some loose drum work, to be followed by the driving guitar, then unfolds into Curtis’ cushiony chanting. But don’t be fooled by the fluffiness that appears to cover this track: halfway through the song the music as well as the lyrics start getting heavier. What and how Ian is singing here pierces my heart: ‘It was me, waiting for something more.’
She’s Lost Control. I am guessing this is what Curtis’ tears would say if they spoke, even though he didn’t have epilepsy at the time this song was written yet. It’s based on the story of a girl he saw having a seizure and somehow was struck by it, unaware of the fact he’d have the same daunting experience not too long after. Despite the lyrics being completely overcast with shady sunlessness, the bass lick sounds rather joyful and the chorus is incredibly catchy.
My personal favourite on this album is Shadowplay, mainly because of the lush arrangement. Driven by the plodding yet dimmed bass lick, the drummer is cheerfully jabbing away. Though Shadowplay is focussing on the strumming electric guitar work cascading throughout, the lyrics take the edge off. Melodically, that is, contextual it’s another the-world-sucks-big-time-song: ‘In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more, as the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor.’
Wilderness seems to carry out a message against religion: ‘What did you see there? I saw all knowledge destroyed. What did you see there? The blood of Christ on their skins.’ Of course everything is open to interpretation, and so I will interpret: I think this song is about wars being started by different religious views. How no sane religious person would hurt someone else for having a different opinion and everything getting lost for that reason. Musically, this song is quite boring. It again has the very monotone vocals I recognize from Disorder, the drumbeat stays the same throughout the song, you’d expect the bass and guitar to explode at some point but they disappointingly don’t. The music’s a drag, but the lyrics are interesting and because of that, it passes as an okay-song by the skin of it’s teeth.
Interzone intergrates well with the rest of the album and, after having to listen to Wilderness, is a true relieve. The intro definitely feeds your drum needs, supporting the endearing guitar snippets that echo the simple yet nifty bass. Halfway through the song the vocals grow more intense. This track sizzles with energy and ranks up there with Shadowplay.
We all know Joy Division is very skilled at creating songs that sounds like shadows and on that note, they end Unknown Pleasures with I
Remember Nothing. It’s up there with Candidate, having hardly any background music to sing to. What’s interesting about this song is that is has some special sounds: breaking glass, closing gates. The lyrics are repetitive but an incredible retrospective sung in Curtis’ crystal clear voice: ‘We were strangers for way too long.’ Out of all of the tracks that carry Joy Divisions signature pitch-blackness, I Remember Nothing takes the cake.
Joy Divisions Unknown Pleasures is a soundtrack to depression, but in a good way. There’s only a one songs I wouldn’t listen to if I wasn’t feeling too peachy already, which is Wilderness. That would just spiral me deeper and deeper down my emotions. Unknown Pleasures is a great album, especially if you listen to the lyrics. They will take your breath away. I’d say get this album but caution: may lose will to live. Again, in a good way.
Song list and rating:
1. Disorder 3:32 ****
2. Day of the Lords 4:49 *****
3. Candidate 3:05 *****
4. Insight 4:29 ****
5. New Dawn Fades 4:47 *****
6. She's Lost Control 3:57 *****
7. Shadowplay 3:55 *****
8. Wilderness 2:38 ***
9. Interzone 2:16 *****
10. I Remember Nothing 5:53 *****
Total time: 39:35
Overall rating: 4,6
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