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