Joy to the world

cd choice: rock JOY DI­VI­SION Un­known Plea­sures/Closer Fac­tory Records

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews Music - BRIAN BOYD

If mu­sic his­to­ri­ans men­tion the Manch­ester Free Trade Hall venue, it’s usu­ally in the con­text of Bob Dylan’s fa­mous 1966 show, the one where he was loudly ac­cused of be­ing a “Ju­das” by some Ne­an­derthal hippy. A much more sig­nif­i­cant show, how­ever, took place in the smaller room up­stairs in 1976, when The Sex Pis­tols made their Manch­ester de­but. In the au­di­ence were Tony Wil­son, Pete Shelley, Howard De­voto, Mor­ris­sey and Mark E Smith.

Also there were Ian Cur­tis, Bernard Sum­ner and Peter Hook. Like al­most ev­ery­one else in the au­di­ence that night, the three de­cided to form a band and, with Stephen Mor­ris in on drums, they slowly be­gan to ex­plore a sound so dis­tinc­tive and in­flu­en­tial that you can still hear its loud echoes in to­day’s chart-top­pers (In­ter­pol, Edi­tors et al).

Al­ways a bit out of step with the pre­vail­ing post-punk mood, Joy Di­vi­sion named them­selves af­ter the pros­ti­tu­tion wing in a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp and signed to Tony Wil­son’s new Fac­tory la­bel. Fac­tory’s in-house pro­ducer, Martin Han­nett, and graphic de­signer Peter Sav­ille were to play a ma­jor role in how the band sounded and ap­peared.

Un­known Plea­sures, re­leased in 1979, was a reve­la­tion. For its time, it was a dis­turb­ing and Teu­tonic work that al­most fell over it­self in its own sense of por­ten­tous­ness. What is still strik­ing about the album to­day is how Cur­tis’s oddly eerie bari­tone is the per­fect ve­hi­cle for those tense, ner­vous lyrics. Rhyth­mi­cally, it’s ad­mirably re­strained, and more mood mu­sic than any­thing else. And it’s still track six, She’s Lost Con­trol, which dom­i­nates. Sav­ille’s min­i­mal­ist cover art couldn’t have been a more ap­pro­pri­ate-look­ing cover.

Closer, re­leased just af­ter Cur­tis’s death in 1980, saw Joy Di­vi­sion bring more of a synth feel to the pro­ceed­ings. Oddly though, the album re­main more sepul­chral than its pre­de­ces­sor. Iso­la­tion and Heart and Soul still pack power and po­tency. Charles Shaar Murray’s re­view for the NME said it all: “Closer is as mag­nif­i­cent a me­mo­rial (for Joy Di­vi­sion as much as for Ian Cur­tis) as any post-Pres­ley pop­u­lar mu­si­cian could have.”

As unique and time­less as pop­u­lar mu­sic has rarely dared to be, th­ese al­bums still en­thral. That said, it’s not worth get­ting ex­cited by the bonus discs with ei­ther – they’re both just live record­ings from the time. With An­ton Cor­bijn’s al­ready ac­claimed Cur­tis biopic (Con­trol) due in Ire­land on Oc­to­ber 5th, it can only be hoped that a new gen­er­a­tion will lis­ten and learn. www.joydivi­sion.home­ Down­load tracks: She’s Lost Con­trol, Iso­la­tion

Old or­der: Ian Cur­tis, Bernard Sum­ner, Stephen Mor­ris, Peter Hook (pho­to­graph: Harry Good­win/ Rex Fea­tures)

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