Records come and go. Some of them get lost, it’s inevitable; some others grow old and there’s the risk they won’t sound any more like they used to. There are milestones, though, which remain forever. ‘Unknown Pleasures’ is one of them, a beautiful gem attached to a piece of my heart, I can’t remember since when. And it sounds odd, because for any song, album or gig I have something to refer to. Every little piece of my memories fills a specific drawer and – more or less instantly – I know how and where to find it.
I can’t really say when Joy Division and I actually clicked. Surely, I was not just a little kid. And it couldn’t be otherwise, anyway. I’m not afraid to describe this record as a masterpiece, one of those albums that come closest to a piece of art. I took a few years, to understand its intricacies. I have segmented it, analyzed it, breathed its dizzy atmospheres and still now, I feel like I can’t get enough.
Only recently I got the chance to know more in-depth what was behind the curtains of the Manchester scene. Behind Joy Division, the Factory Records and what after all of that would have been New Order. I got it through the writing of Peter Hook, a sarcastic, self-detrimental good boy who founded Joy Division and changed once – or twice – the history of music together with Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, and Ian Curtis.
Hooks makes a fair point about the album and the band itself, in his autobiography ‘Unknown Pleasures – Inside Joy Division’. The band existed exclusively within its boundaries, as the bassist stresses today that “everything up to and including Unknown Pleasures really existed only when the four of us were in a room together playing it. Not written down, not recorded, just from memory”. It’s a thin, yet substantial difference, if you think about that, in a modern age where bands are put together on TV, where artists get out of the music industry with a pre-packed pedigree and a marketing persona which appeals at its best to the trendiest audiences.
Joy Division have always been proud to be indie. Able to keep themselves with their own feet on the ground (thanks to a smart management too, Hooks often says in his book, mentioning Rob Gretton), probably far ahead in terms of musical ideas, if compared to the other groups at the time. And then there’s Ian: the genius, architect of the arty sound which became a trademark for the band itself, an authentic inspiration for tons of other lots for decades.
‘Unknown Pleasures’ doesn’t really need any more words. Let just press play once again. Let Ian Curtis’ voice take you by the hand and make you discover your own unknown pleasures. Let ‘Disorder’ and its bass line drill your brain; close your eyes and start a journey through the darkness of a cavern. You don’t really know if you will get out in one piece. Then breathe, while Joy Division play unique and unrepeatable gems like ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘Shadowplay’, ‘Insight’ or ‘Wilderness’.
You’ll open your eyes and realise that, no, this record has not aged at all. It’s still alive, it stares at you as Ian would do at the flashing lights on stage, contemplating his microphone, the only emergency exit he could ever find to get his twisted poetry out there.
Factory Records | 1979
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