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November 26, 2022

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Unknown Pleasures’ shows gloom with a view

Musically speaking, historical significance doesn't always equate to pleasurable listening.

Though I recognize the importance of, say, Captain Beefheart's experimental "Trout Mask Replica" or the early Detroit techno singles, I rarely feel the urge to spin those landmark works.

Joy Division's 1979 debut LP, "Unknown Pleasures," has long been recognized as one of the seminal records in rock history, and deservedly so. After all, how many other albums are credited for ushering in an entire era of music, as the monolothic "Unknown Pleasures" did for post-punk?

But in this case, the disc earns required listening status not just on the basis of its historical relevance, but also because it still sounds fresh and exciting more than 25 years after its release.

From the opening drumbeat of leadoff cut "Disorder" through the final clang of capper "I Remember Nothing," the 10-track album is an intensely bleak experience.

In other words, "Unknown Pleasures" isn't recommended for a sunny day or an afternoon playing with your kids. It's serious business, dark and gloomy yet quite uplifting in a musical sense.

Centerpiece "New Dawn Fades," for instance, is a glorious goth-rock epic. Funereal basslines meet ringing guitar tones to create a dizzying roar, to which Ian Curtis fastens his tortured, baritone vocals.

"She's Lost Control," by contrast, is rhythmic and upbeat, yet still quite menacing, a condition in large part attributable to Martin Hannett's ominous production techniques.

Another up-tempo cut, "Inerzone," points toward the dance-rock of the band that emerged from the ashes of Joy Division, New Order, while echoes of angular fare such as "Insight" and "Wilderness" can still be heard in the songs of current indie stars Interpol and Franz Ferdinand.

It's not an overstatement to say that goth-rock, college rock and alternative rock all have their origins wrapped up in "Unknown Pleasures." Even if you don't want the history lesson, though, Joy Division's first full-length splash can make quite an impression on your ears.

Artist: Joy Division.

Title: "Unknown Pleasures."

Year of release: 1979 (Reissued 1989, Qwest Records).

Tracklisting: "Disorder," "Day of the Lords," "Candidate," "Insight," "New Dawn Fades," "She's Lost Control," "Shadowplay," "Wildnerness," "Interzone," "I Remember Nothing."