By NICK SCHWAB
Come here young lass, let me prop you up on me knee, and tell you of Joy Division, a band that lacked that mushy-gushy ecstasy. I will play you songs of singer/lyricist Ian Curtis’ depressive ills, and you will find that this doom-laded group from the 1970’s Manchester, England scene had a frothy venom to all those that have ever betrayed.
“Unknown Pleasures” will make your heart break open and bleed from its opening cry of: ”I’ve been waiting for the guide to come and take me by the hand,” (from “Disorder.”) This sound helped lay the groundwork for Goth Rock and the Post-Punk genres, and is intentionally vapid and monotonic, attempting to sail a sea of shattered fantasies through a current of disdain. Miss-stepping and never diving into a sea of murky boredom, the album pulls the audience’s emotions around, as if they were sailors off course, with their ships lower hull stuck into the bottom of the rocks at the mouth of the river Styx.
Although the sense of life affecting art would be much more apparent after Curtis’ death by his own hands shortly before the release of their second album, “Closer“-- this debut album still contains a cathartic feeling, purging out all the anger inside its audience through its dire, yet lyrical rhetoric. We are drawn in, ever so quaintly, by this fascination of one man‘s depression, as a sense of emotion is acquired and contained from both this written poetry and the low-key, atmospheric instrumentals. The intrigue that the listener has of Curtis’ morose gives them the strife to push on until there is nothing left but a relic of past happiness, while a stranglehold grips your throat, as if putting the ship onto the corner of a flat planet, with its bow about to fall into nothingness, and the captain’s tears flowing down like candles’ melting wax, as the crew’s cries to repent caterwaul out of horror much alike a pleading bird of prey. More tears are shed as the wooden walls condense in, and an everlasting storm destroys the peaceful sail towards an island getaway. Then as the calm waters begin to rise exponentially like a virus, the sailors now know by the rising sun they only have damnation in a future where the light of the heavens will not shine.
This sense of paradise taken away is at its most poetic on this album, as at many times, a sense of youthful, depressive heartache is Shakespearian in a dark-and-gloomy vortex of fractured passions and disbanded ecstasies. The instrumentals accompany the flat and off-key, yet mood setting croon of Curtis, who with all the begotten in his scorched heart, cries out in miserable dire for the bleak future. Beats pulse, joy is subverted and subdued, tears are shed, and the listener feels as if they are in a Dracula story, in which the Prince of Darkness just wants someone to love-- all while a lingering sensation of hopelessness is acquired and the music fades to later reanimate, digging down into the recess of human emotion, and striking into the human consciousness, like a railroad spike.
As mentioned before the album is down 'n’ low from its first verse, yet Joy Division is even hopeless in its name, as the Joy Divisions were a section of the concentration camps in which women were forced into sexual labor. The metaphor behind their name can be looked at as the human dream to live long and be happy being squandered, as the sense of something better in this life now seems so sacred. Curtis sings on “New Dawn Fades, ”Oh, I’ve walked on water, run through fire/ Can’t seem to feel it anymore.” This line shows the mindset of someone who thinks they have nothing to offer the world anymore, and earlier in the song when he sings the tragic refrain,” A loaded gun won’t set you free/ So you say,” shows that when trumpets of a brighter time fade, only the silence of persecution lies in its wake.
There is a sense of anger toward god, as well as the commonalities of worship. This untraditional approach (or is that reproach?) with mood swings of bottled up and disheartened feelings makes it radical of traditional societal roles. Yet this is not so much an anarchist rallying cry against all that is government, but rather it gives a socialistic view of love, and the roles that one takes in a relationship -- both at its most intimate, its most confrontational, and lastly, its most adoringly depressive.
The last sentence may not make much sense, as many would site a grave difference between depression and beauty: yet, Joy Division gives love at its most skeletal form of heartache, a certain suppression of one’s own demonic dark side. This anchor to all that is enclosed in the deepest chambers of the human soul, of which, drive Joy Division’s bewitchment over even the most mirthful of humankind, so long as they go into the music with an open mind.
However, even if someone can’t get into this acquired-taste cult band, one feeling is still apparent-- loneliness--however, it’s their opinion if it’s out of callow introversion, or a belief of accepting the world for what it can seem like often on the news programs that take on a “no news but bad news“ philosophy: thus accepting a belief that life is only a dark labyrinth of pent up hurt and sorrow -- shown with true tantamount in lyrics such as those in “Candidate,” of which declare this beguiled disappointment as: “I worked hard for this/ I tried to get to you/ You treat me like this.”
In the end, even if the band is all about the doom-and-gloom surrounding the underbelly of humanity, there is not much that is disappointing on this album, at least aside from the too-lengthy final song, “I Remember Nothing.” As nearly thirty years after its 1979 inception, “Unknown Pleasures,” is still a cacophony wrecking ball into the heart of everything that humans hold sacred.
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