I like to think of myself as a joyful person. Therefore, I tried systematically to keep away from Joy Division. I realize the faults of my thought process, and I realize the detachment one might (or should) resort to when checking out a new (in a subjective sense) band. So the following review is out of time and out of place, but a sincere step in overcoming and at the same time embracing emotional impact. And, in this case, the album’s title fits like the idiomatic glove.
There are few parameters in what Joy Division do on 1979′s Unknown Pleasures. Emotionally, it fits somewhere between apathy, guilt and hopelessness, all placed in the middle of a psychotic episode or on one’s deathbed. This extremely bleak material is however treated with extreme coolness, a surgically clear detachment which in itself becomes one of the themes. So where does sadness start and where is it heading? Does it ever stop? No, it doesn’t, nor do we want it to.
There is no progress on Unknown Pleasures, the figure in its center is trapped in a tight space, with an interior landscape even tighter and darker, and never moves. And that’s where the title comes in. Rather than a lament, Joy Division’s debut is a sadist statement of delight born out of despair. Psychotic episodes (She’s lost control), murderous intimations (Interzone) and expectance of death (Insight) offer no escape, but this is where pleasure begins. The slight turn towards some kind of light (New Dawn Fades) is intentionally annihilated by vaguely motivated depression and hopelessness. The band scrapes together these compositions with a very precise emotional content in mind, but they do it with fascinating uncertainty on the musical side. The rhythm section thumps out funereal melodies and stagnant beats, while guitars, effects and everything else languidly creep towards the listener. Perpetually somewhere next to exact pitch and time the band slowly insinuates itself into the cracks in your (pun definitely intended) joy and tear it apart by sheer insistence. They send you afloat on the murky waters of self-pity and each attempt at paddling away is stifled by the vocal’s extreme stubbornness and sadist overtones. Ian Curtis is very determined to remain in the hole he has buried himself in, and enjoys every lonely minute and every claustrophobic inch of it.
“Walked upon the edge of no escape, and laughed I’ve lost control.“
Unknown Pleasures wants to pull out your urge to give up power, surrender to suffering and enjoy it. Purpose is not needed, escape is to be avoided. Only recommendation is to wallow in it, drink it in, absorb it through every pore and hold it in for as long as you can. Don’t sigh, don’t exhale, don’t struggle.
“I’ve got the spirit, but lose the feeling.
Feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling, feeling.“
And where are you left when the album’s done? There are only two ways out. Either you slowly, very slowly nod your head, start the record from the top and stop blinking throughout the whole thing, or the fetal position into which you have crawled since the second song starts inducing a smile on your face. That’s where the album succeeds and your pleasures become known.