Making Reviews for Nigel #3
By Diego Basaldu
Design: Peter Saville Front sleeve of Unknown Pleasures
*Artist: Joy Division *Released: June 15th, 1979 *Genre: Post-punk
Top 3 songs: Shadowplay (#3), New Dawns Fade (#2), Disorder (#1)
Extra Fact: The first full album I listened to completely
Personal ranking: 10/10
Unbiased ranking: 10/10
I had just gotten my driver’s license about two weeks ago, I started driving myself to school with my little brother in the back. I had a small playlist I made of songs I heard from listening to Richard Blade on Sirius XM channel 33 with Dad. I enjoyed all the “known hits” (the clichés as I called them, even though there was nothing cliché about these artists) of artists from the new wave, post-punk, and classic alternative genre.
I had about 5-15 songs for each artist I heard: The Smiths, Depeche Mode, New Order, Joy Division, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Duran Duran, and R.E.M., Eurythmics. I loved the songs, but they were getting a little repetitive. I was craving more. More songs from the bands I knew. More songs from bands I have yet to discover.
On Saturday I would watch documentaries (most of them from the BBC) about the genres. I discovered the punk movements of the UK and US with artists such as The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Ramones, and New York Dolls. The post-punk movement growing thanks to Public Image Ltd., Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and Television. New wave with its use of synths and other inspirations to form bands like the O.M.D., The English Beat, Devo, and Blondie. Alternative music rising from the underground with The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Alarm, The Pretenders, and Pixies. I was interested in discovering these new (old) bands. I didn’t choose to listen to albums entirely until I saw a tweet that asked, “When was the last time you listened to an album to its entirety. Like without skipping songs?”. I looked at my screen for a good two minutes until it clicked in my brain. I need to listen to albums by these bands I just discovered, and the bands I always loved. So on Saturday, I sat on the floor of my room (on the floor so I can be with Wicket, my dog) trying to decide what album I wanted to listen to first. I always had my top 5 favorite bands. The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, Depeche Mode, and Radiohead in that order, but I couldn’t choose which one to listen to first. I looked up their albums, the songs on the albums, reviews of the albums, and how appealing the covers were to my eyes. I was down between The Smiths and Joy Division.
So I chose based on which band formed first (Joy Division obviously). I’ve always seen the image of the front sleeve of Unknown Pleasures on shirts, but I never knew what the image was depicting (after hearing the album, I would get triggered when people refer to the iconic image as “just a shirt”). The image is of radio waves of a pulsar called CP 1919. Bernard Sumner chose the image when he was reading a book and found the image. Truly books can inspire. On Monday morning, I was ready for school, got into my car, plugged my phone into the aux cord, turned the volume up to ten (which was equivalent to about 80% of your volume up on your phone with headphones), and I looked at the first song listed. “Disorder”. Must be about Ian’s epilepsy and depression, and it must be a slow, sad song. I pressed play, and I heard a beat I will never forget. I automatically knew this was going to be my favorite Joy Division song (still is). I began my drive to school knowing this was going to be an awesome album.
Disorder is one of the greatest starting tracks to an album. Every part of this song is amazing. Stephen Morris controlling the beat, Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner trying to free themselves from Hannett’s production, and Ian Curtis. His voice as he sings about his struggles for the sake of our dancing entertainment. The lyrics are what I expected from “Disorder”, but the sound I was anticipating was found on “Day of the Lords”. A dark and heavy track carried by Hook’s bass and Ian’s baritone voice. The lyrics of war, pain, and death cast the shadow of what was yet to become of Joy Division. Ian Curtis is what keeps this album’s blood flowing (I had to say it now, or I’ll just keep praising him every other sentence). His voice is so uniquely fitting for each song, such as in “The Candidate”. He slows down, almost mumbling, of a relationship being compared to politics. He was a candidate for a woman’s love, his wife’s, only to cheat on her and end up in a lonely, unfortunate situation. “Insight” begins with Hannett’s experimentation with sound effects (in this case a door opening) until a slow, rising start of Hook’s bass starting the musical aspect of the song. Filled with electronic “chirp” effects, “Insight” is coming to terms with death. Ian singing he’s “not afraid anymore” leaves a sense of dread (knowing what will happen). He also remembers simpler times. We can all relate to what our childhood was like, free from worry and stress. Remembering the good times, we had when we were young. Relating to Ian Curtis’ lyrics are a key part of understanding this album. If you do not relate to his lyrics, you will not be able to completely feel Unknown Pleasures. Give yourself to those darker, explicate, and unknown thoughts that appear in your head when listening. On “New Dawn Fades”, follow the sound of Sumner’s guitar. The depth of emotion emanating from the sound of Ian’s voice. Feel the music. Steady yourself to the bass and drums, while drifting into the guitar anticipating what comes next. Listen to Ian struggling to find feeling again. Relate to what he has been through. Follow him to the end as new dawn fades on him once more. Besides Hannett’s use of synthesized sound effects, the shortest glimpse we get of New Order is in “She’s Lost Control”. Stephen Morris using an electronic drum pad to create the iconic sound (sound of spraying a microphone). The song’s meaning is obvious; a woman suffering from epilepsy. The same epilepsy Ian was struggling with during his days with Joy Division.
The descriptions used to describe an epileptic seizure come from Ian’s own experience. Peter Hook’s bass and Stephen’s drumming add another dance track to the album. You can’t help but stomp your feet to the beat of a dying woman’s epileptic attack. The song’s electronic beat stopped and overtaken by a bassline and cymbals preparing for another shift in musical style. Guitar, bass, drums, cymbals, and leftovers from “She’s Lost Control” come to a crash that ignites the start of “Shadowplay”. Ian feeling nothing as he tries to connect with others, only to find himself alone again. The line that always sticks out for me is when Ian sings, “In the shadowplay, acting out your death knowing no more”. What a disheartening line. The pain someone must have to act out their death. To visualize how your life ends. This is a line I will never truly understand. I could never relate to such pain and suffering. I can only see a glimpse of what Ian was truly feeling. The track ends with a final crash from Stephen Morris. “Wilderness” is post-punk in every aspect. The melody feeds the critique of religion. How religion has negatively impacted people with harsh rules and punishments. The song wastes no time to get the point across. “Interzone” is the song that closely resembles how Joy Division expected to sound on the album. Fast and disorienting. Hannett’s production on the album leads to unsatisfaction with the sound from the band (such as “She’s Lost Control” has a faster pace live than on the album). There are always long, silent pauses between songs or weird sounds heard in the beginning (like at the beginning of “New Dawn Fades”). The song has Peter Hook signing lead vocals with Ian as the backing vocals. The song is just about “looking for a friend”. The song does loosely remind me of Joy Division’s debut single “Transmission”. Both danceable tracks with heavy use of drums and raw sounding guitars and bass. “Interzone” falsely prepares a lead into an unexpected sounding track, “I Remember Nothing”. All those past tracks lead to a morbid and slow conclusion. The atmosphere surrounding the song is felt in both the lyrics and instruments. The struggle of Ian dealing with his depression. How the disorder is changing how he feels about his love, his wife. Depression was imprisonment. He was trapped and saw no pleasant way out.
The album ends on “I Remember Nothing”, and the album’s overall tone is reminded with this final track. Unknown Pleasures is a dark glimpse into the life experiences of another man, but that’s what gives strength to the album. There is no way to avoid any of the real thoughts of a man suffering. He could only speak out about his pain through this album. Through his songs. Each song crafted with an emotion left behind by Ian. Left in the form of a post-punk masterpiece to be heard. To be appreciated. While Ian was alive, everyone heard the songs, but no one heard his cries for help. Now we can listen knowing he is at peace.