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Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

January 22, 2014

220px-Unknown_Pleasures_Joy_Division_LP_sleeve[Album 280/1001]

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.

From → 1970s

  1. cassetteman permalink

    Im not familiar with this album at all but I know what you mean about not “Getting It” with bands that are supposed to be a big deal. The Smiths for example, leave me cold

    • Would you believe the Smiths are my favourite band? 😀
      As you said with Deee-Lite, personal preferences!

      I can totally appreciate that with The Smiths though – for me the reason why they work is the contrast between the bleak lyrics/limited range of vocal notes and the sophisticated, layered musical arrangements.

      This Joy Division one was stark when it came to both the music and lyrics and maybe that’s another reason it didn’t resonate with me right away.

      I had a post a while ago about how a lot of the time favourites can be polarizing – such as for every diehard Neil Young fan, there’s probably another listener that can’t stand his voice.

  2. New Order was one of my favourite bands in high school. When I learned they were originally Joy Division, I decided I was going to buy one of their albums to check out and ended up with Substance (1988), which is obviously a greatest hits album. It didn’t catch on with me either for a good long while. I didn’t like Ian Curtis’s voice, and I think learning of the nature of his death affected me somehow. Even now, although my music tastebuds have matured, I still find Curtis’s voice a bit Kermit The Frog-ish (oh god i’m gonna burn in he– aren’t i…). Musically, I love their songs, and could hear serious JD in the couple of New Order albums, especially in songs like Procession and Hurt. But, they are definitely an acquired taste, not for everyone.

    Might I add, I had a better fondness for Joy Division watching the movie 24 Party People, and later Control. It helped to have that context.

    • Good to know about the films – and not to worry, you will not burn anywhere!

      Someone I know once likened Tom Waits to Cookie Monster, so I suppose some singers just have their Muppet moments.

      New Order has 2 albums on the list – Low Life and Technique – I’m not too familiar with the group beyond the singles. A few of those songs, Regret/Bizarre Love Triangle to name two, I quite like.

      • Wasn’t Regret on their Republic album (which I like)?

        Perfect Kiss might be the one you’re thinking of from Low Life.

        Technique reminds me of the 11th grade. I really like that album – poppy and catchy.

      • And their city of origin (Manchester) is a good one – I’d argue the best musical city. With New Order/Joy Division, The Smiths, Oasis, Doves, Badly Drawn Boy, The Verve and many more…it’s a tough one to beat!

      • Then you’ll dig 24 hour party people then…It’s a bio-pic about Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records. It’s quite good, and delves into the the Manchester music scene in 80s-90s.

  3. “I can’t help but feel self-conscious (why don’t I get it?!) as this record is beyond critically acclaimed.”

    This is also self-referential, as it is obviously an unknown pleasure to you. 🙂

    • I was trying to come up with some sort of wordplay about being of two minds about this album, my overall joy of listening wasn’t whole, it was a bit divi… 😉

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