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Unknown Pleasures
Joy Division

Factory FACT 10
Released: 1979

Ian CurtisUnknown Pleasures features "She's Lost Control" and is devastating in its nihilistic vision and raw, jagged sound. * * * * 1/2

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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A strange thing happened to Manchester's Joy Division in 1979 when they fell into the arms of idiosyncratic record producer Martin Hannett. Although his methods were somewhat bizarre ("Play that again, faster...but slower"), his instant transformation of this band still seem remarkable. Pre-Hannett, they had been languishing loosely in rock's darker corners, producing a very mundane post-punk rock noise. He pared their sound back until it became sharp, tight and minimal. Hannett's genius was to create the perfect neurotic backbeat for the haunting and holy voice of singer, Ian Curtis. There is a palpable tension here, with the band's "punkiness" screaming beneath Hannett's godly guidance. By the time the final track, "I Remember Nothing" was reached, the musicians appeared to have submitted to their master's voice. The band, believing Hannett had drained their live power, instantly loathed it, but everybody else fell completely under its spell. Introspective, neurotic and gloomily portentous, it cast a shadow so dark that occasional bursts of icy synth seemed almost shocking. Less than a year after its release, singer Ian Curtis was dead, having hung himself at home on the eve of an American tour, with a new single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" about to be released. The single would, naturally, become a big hit. It was Joy Division's farewell, and signalled the advent of a New Order.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

Following their appearance on 1978's noted Factory Sample EP, financed by local television personality Tom Wilson, Joy Division opted to release their landmark debut album on tiny independent Factory too, despite interest from major labels.

Recorded in a week at Stockport's Strawberry Studios, sonic visionary Martin Hannett took the sheet metal guitar of Bernard Dicken (aka Sumner), Peter Hook's unique bass melodies, and Stephen Morris' innovative combination of acoustic and electronic drums and created a muted, unnerving ambience through pioneering use of digital effects, muffled screams, and crashing glass.

Lyricist Ian Curtis documents his experiences as an epileptic in the mutant disco of "She's Lost Control," whilst the sodium-lit "Shadowplay" conjures images of the urban decay and paranoia of late-1970s Manchester. The sparseness of the music perfectly complements his cold baritone, particularly on the majestic death anthem "New Dawn Fades" and the haunting "I Remember Nothing," while the energetic "Interzone" and "Disorder" remind listeners of the band's fierce live reputation.

In the immediate post-punk period of "busy design" and primary colors, the stark textured black sleeve, featuring the radio waves emitted from a dying star, was as groundbreaking as the music contained within, and ushered in a minimalist design revolution.

Unknown Pleasures was a commercial and critical success -- though one journalist paid the backhanded compliment of describing the record as perfect listening prior to committing suicide. Twenty-five years later, Unknown Pleasures is still compelling listening.

- Claire Stuchbery, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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When the musicians of Joy Division first met in 1977, at a Sex Pistols show in Manchester, punk was everything cool, the prevailing expression of disaffected youth. Two years later, singer Ian Curtis (1956-1980) and his three musicians presented this astonishing counterargument, which amounts to the beginning of a new rock and roll language.

Joy Division seized the blunt expressions and me-first narcissism of punk, then filtered them through restrained, and at times elegant, melodies. Its tunes build from pulsating war-drum tom-toms, and share grim narratives that describe deep and inescapable existential quagmires. Most punk productions are a poke in the eye with a sharp stick; Joy Division hovers in a predatory stance, the menacing stalker in the background.

Curtis's baritone emerges out of the blanket of fog, spreading dread before he even gets started on his tales of urban isolation and romantic betrayal. Like Jim Morrison and very few other rock singers, Curtis -- who hanged himself shortly before the release of Joy Division's second and final album, Closer -- commands the spotlight with jut his presence, his weighed-down tone. The musicians and producer Martin Hannett seize on this, and through skillful use of reverb and other sound-shaping effects position that foreboding voice at the center of music that broods and oozes, yet remains several sizes larger than life.

The thick and at time impenetrable wash of sound wasn't exactly a huge hit right away. But it resonated with an extraordinary number of musicians who became rock stars in the '80s and '90s, among them the Smiths, U2, the Cure, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails. Just about any rock that carries more than a veneer of darkness owes some debt to Joy Division and this still-surprising album, which makes despair and other dire emotional straits seem frighteningly alluring.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

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