Friday, January 8, 2010

The return of Carole's seminal albums; setting out to new places

1979, punk had turned from the amphetamine fuelled roar of 1976 into a fragmented, angry and impotent sulk as the Music Biz snapped up the commercially viable acts and packaged teenage disaffection into chart-friendly power pop.

The Pistols were gone, Sid was dead, The Clash were conquering America and the Tories were in power. New Romanticism was still hidden away in Soho clubs and things were grey.

In the north, music was developing in new ways, branching out from three chord thrash and experimenting with new ideas. In 1978, Tony Wilson had founded Factory Records in Manchester and began assembling his roster of oddball talents. The label released a few singles and EPs featuring the likes of OMD, The Durruti Column, A Certain Ratio and Joy Division.

Along with Rough Trade, Factory was beginning to define the way forward from the messy death of Punk.

In 1979, Factory released FAC 10, the first LP release from the label. It was this album, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.

Produced by Martin Hannett, the album wasn't a huge seller but did manage to turn Factory from a cottage industry into a real record label. Tony Wilson had had such belief in the band that he used his savings to fund the initial run of 10,000 pressings but it wasn't until the release of the band's second album, the classic Closer that people really began to pick up on Unknown Pleasures in great numbers. The subsequent suicide of Ian Curtis sealed the iconic status of the band and the legend was born.

Arguably, Unknown Pleasures is a transitional piece, some tracks harking back to Joy Division's punky roots as Warsaw, others using the metronomic drumming that was to become a hallmark of their sound.

Hannett's production style is key to the sound; sparse, bassy, dub influenced, spatially separated and atmospheric. Not great musicians, the band found different ways to work. The repetitive drum patterns were as often supported by Bernard Sumner's scratchy guitar as by Peter Hook's basslines.

Distorted guitar, often using simple power-chord riffs, echoing spaces, high basslines carrying the melody and Ian Curtis's anguished, despairing baritone created a bleak soundscape of loss, alienation, fear, self-loathing and hopelessness that was hardly chart-friendly but which found an audience in the difficult times people were living through.

In Melody Maker, Jon Savage wrote that;

"leaving the twentieth century is difficult; most people prefer to go back and nostalgise, Oh boy. Joy Division at least set a course in the present with contrails for the future — perhaps you can’t ask for much more. Indeed, Unknown Pleasures may very well be one of the best, white, English, debut LPs of the year"

As time passed, the Thatcherite revolution began to bite; unemployment grew, interest rates rose and Trades Union activism led to strikes against the free-market capitalism of the government and the resultant decimation of working class Britain.

In many respects, the grey, depressed, existentialist angst of Joy Division was the perfect soundtrack to the times. Certainly, the sound spawned dozens of imitators of varying degrees of competence and musicality.

It also did wonders for the sales of black clothes, the reading of existentialist texts was essential and grainy black and white photograhs became de rigeur in rock journalism.


Day Of The Lords



New Dawn Fades

She's Lost Control




I Remember Nothing


B=Mc2 said...

I went through a serious Joy Division phase as a troubled young man - anyone else?

saneshane said...

my copy is fac 10c - in a purple box - the image is black lines on white background. very beautiful..

gremlinfc said...

This is theeeee bizness: LCB in full swing -I remember Peel announcing Curtis' death in May 1980 on his 10-12 programme followed by Malcolm Owen in July - 2 frontmen who went too early and both influenced a generation without a shadow of a doubt. For me there is no more beautiful a song than "Atmosphere" , no more touching than "She's lost Control" and if I want to get going and give it some volume it has to be one of "Disorder" .,"Isolation" or "Shadowplay" or all 3...wonderful.

Exodus said...

No question that this is seminal - like it or not there's no denying the influence this has had over the last thirty years.

As an album it has the edge for me over 'Closer' - the sparse, angular production & the strange half submerged noises and sound effects that Hannett contributes create a world that the songs inhabit and take you straight into that 'room with no window' in 'the centre of the city in the night'.

Unlike a lot of people (fans included) I don't consider it in the least depressing. Dark, yes, and I related to that when I played it obsessively over and over again in my bedroom (come on, of course I did, I was a mentally unstable closetted gay anarchist intellectual in the darkest depths of industrially depressed south wales) but for me there was almost a euphoria in much of it: when Curtis shouts 'I'm not afraid anymore' over and over at the end of 'Insight' it gave me the strength to carry on. And, although I'm no longer that angst ridden adolescent, this is still the album I play when i want to lift myself up.

Great choice!

Exodus said...

Sorry Carole - I always seem to kill the conversation on your seminal albums.

severin said...

Now, you know, the funny thing is.
I used to really like The Cure when they started out.

And after they released their first album they played four consecutive Sunday evening gigs at London's Marquee Club in Wardour Street. "A month of Sundays" they called it.
I went to all of them.

Any road up, they had a different support group each time and I glanced at each of these in mild interest.
Shall I stop now? Can you fill in the rest?

Well, I didn't know they were going to save the world did I? I did think they were quite good if memory serves though.

Course, after the album came out I told my friends I'd been there at the beginning and spotted their potential immediately. Ho yus.

Shoey said...

If Ceremony & In A Lonely Place were anything to go by, a 3rd JD album would have been even better than the 1st one. Sad,