Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 1. Unknown Pleasures

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 1. 
Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division

"I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand,
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?
These sensations barely interest me for another day,
I've got the spirit, lose the feeling, take the shock away."

Irony. A definition. One of the very first vinyl albums I bought was Unknown Pleasures. The copy I bought was never listened to. Before I even got to take it out of its sleeve it was broken. Someone sat on it. (It may have been me.) It was a few weeks before I managed to replace it and I considered framing the broken disc as it seemed like such a perfect accident.

When I finally replaced the album I listened to it obsessively for ages. I didn't have many albums. I remember gradually falling for all the songs after initial resistance to some that I thought (at the time) tended towards guitar histrionics. I was a minimalist.

The album is a journey into the heart of the city, a city full of eerie soundscapes and a geometry of disconnection. The music is cold, digital, ominous, full of the anonymous threat of city streets at night. Much of the praise has, and should, go to the genius of Martin Hannett. He manages to highlight all the instruments with great clarity while also making them serve the purpose of creating a dramatic soundscape within which Ian Curtis' vocals can lead us "to the centre of the city at night". He also effectively uses sound effects to add depth to these soundscapes. It is an architecture of sound.

The atmosphere reminds me of the worlds created by JG Ballard and William Burroughs, worlds familiar yet strange, half science fiction, half existential mystery. "It was me, waiting for me." No matter how far you wander you are not alone. You are still with yourself. Until you're not.

And of course it's hard to listen without the knowledge of Curtis' suicide but this music sounded astonishing even before that. I remember in particular the single which followed this album. Joy Division, despite their grim reputation, being one of the great singles bands: Transmission; Love Will Tear Us Apart, Athmosphere. And the holy grail at the time, the rare (and easily damaged)  flexidisc Komakino.

I'll sign off with my other Joy Division story. One night, while buying chips in a local chipper in Bray I was accosted by a worshipful fan who told me that they had always known that I was still alive. "Ian" he said "let me buy you some chips." Thanks, Ian. I owe you a bag. Perhaps sleeping beside the photo in this photo rubbed off on me.

It was one of only two instances where I was recognised by a 'fan'. There was one instance where a 'fan' came up to me in a cafe and told me that they liked our song Shoes and that we should write more like it because the rest of our set was useless. Never happened to Ian Curtis, I bet.

I don't think anything I ever tried to do wasn't influenced by Joy Division, nor was much of it directly like them. This song seems appropriate as it, like Transmission, is about the radio and even uses the word novelty which was the b-side of Transmission. Unconscious hommage?


  1. I went with Closer (brain washed by a cover that seemed to be on every wall in halls of residence) but it was a tough call. I always think S Morris' drumming is what holds the whole thing together

    1. The drumming is great, as are the bass and guitar. They sound great live, even as Warsaw (Was it the electric circus album that had them live? Yes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Circuit:_Live_at_the_Electric_Circus) so Hannett had plenty to work with. I seem to have ignored the musicians in my post. I'm sure they're gutted. (Don't be, you're all great)

  2. I've gravitated from Closer to Unknown Pleasures over the years. I love the version of Shadowplay on Les Bains Douches.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFYUiRKYfXQ


    1. Great version. Listening to this album now. Thanks for the nudge Brendan.

  3. Took a group of spanish kids to kildare village a couple of years ago. Driving the bus was michael maher, johnny marr's uncle. After a long discussion about the smiths I asked him what he thought of joy division. "Never listened to them much, too depressing", he offered. I thought about that for a while, people used to say the same about the Smiths, now morrissey never appears in mainstream media without "iconic" before his name. Had he given joy division a chance I thing michael the bus driver might have found more he could connect with in "shadowplay" than "there is a light..." just my 2p.

    1. With Johnny's roots in Athy and Ian's in Portarlington perhaps they both inherited some of the darkness of the midlands...
      (love the name btw!)