Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)
Confession: I don’t love it.
I can’t help but feel self-conscious (why don’t I get it?!) as this record is beyond critically acclaimed.
As such, I’ve been listening to Unknown Pleasures, over and over, trying to find out what it is that’s not speaking to me.
I have come up with at least one theory.
As a teacher, when I’m giving a lesson, for it to register with my students, there are 3 components that should be working together: the atmosphere, the teacher, the content.
If the classroom dynamic is too loud/quiet, too tense/relaxed, the learning will be affected.
Ditto if the students can’t get past my voice, if I’m monotonous or overly enthusiastic.
Finally, if the content’s just not that interesting, it doesn’t really matter how I attempt to dress it up.
Using that framework when listening to records, my take-away enjoyment may boil down to the production, the singer, and the songs.
1) The production
I didn’t think I’d ever be picky about drums but I found the drum sounds here distracting, the snare in particular. It doesn’t sound overproduced, in that it sounds like the band could play the songs live as a 4-piece. However, the energy that might be present live often isn’t there on this studio recording.
2) The singer
Ian Curtis is perhaps the selling point for some but I struggled to get past his wandering tuning. Some might say he sounds a bit like Jim Morrison but for me, Jim Morrison wasn’t the strongest feature of The Doors either.
3) The songs
Of the three criteria, I’d say this is the most important. Fortunately, it’s also this album’s greatest strength. There’s no need to dispute the quality of songs like Disorder, Insight, and my personal favourite, New Dawn Fades.
I have no doubt many of my favourite groups were inspired by Joy Division; for that I am of course indebted. I also wouldn’t be surprised if I become a bigger fan by the end of the project.
Until then, this is a ‘classic’ I don’t fully appreciate yet.