Appreciating the musical value of Joy Division

Ian Curtis was a genius. Ian Curtis was tragic. Curtis’ band Joy Division is one of the most influential of not only the “new wave” movement of the ‘80s, but also of the new wave revival that began 10 years ago.

Released in 1979 with Factory Records, the band’s first album Unknown Pleasures is a hugely significant album in the development of music, which is impressive considering the band didn’t even exist past 1980.

Due to Curtis’ depressive state – coping with epilepsy and a failing marriage – he committed suicide in 1980 on the eve before a massive U.S.-wide tour with The Buzzcocks.

After Curtis’ death, Joy Division came to an end and its remaining members formed New Order, a significant new wave band.

To this day, it is doubtful that New Order could have carried the same sound or influence on future generations of musicians without the strong musical impact of Curtis’ baritone voice and distinctive, creative style.

While Unknown Pleasures did not capture the awesome raw power Curtis and company had during live performances, the album is nonetheless something that every synthesized-obsessed music nerd should listen to.

The opening track “Disorder” begins with a typical, simple drumbeat characteristic of the ‘80s punk movement in England.

But what makes Joy Division’s songs so different from punk or emerging post-punk bands is the powerful combination of Curtis’ vocals – a solid, dark bass line – and the faint sound of the perfect guitar riff.

“Shadowplay” is another notable song on this record. It also features a strong bass line, which sets a tone of darkness that is prevalent throughout the record.

Throughout this song and others, noises such as whooshes or breaking glass are created by a sound machine.

Creating such different sounds with a machine was a revolutionary technique that became widespread in the ‘80s throughout a variety of musical styles, including pop songs.

Covers of “Shadowplay” have been performed by many artists.

One of the most recent was by The Killers, who played it for the soundtrack of Curtis’ biopic Control.It has become a favourite of theirs to play during shows.

Sadly – while the homages are well-intended – the simplicity of Curtis’ vocals and lyrics often become lost and swept-up in the fanciful nature of stadium shows and audiences who aren’t familiar with Joy Division’s music.

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” is arguably the most recognizable song in Joy Division’s arsenal.

While it doesn’t appear on this album, powerfully dark and rich songs like “I Remember Nothing” demonstrate sophistication in their attempt to play with new machines to create new sounds.

Though no true synthesizers like the type featured in “Love Will Tear Us Apart” appear until their second album Closer, Unknown Pleasures illustrates the foundation of a musical evolution.

Bands today like Editors or Interpol, would not have the distinct melancholic, darkness significant to their respective sounds if it weren’t for Curtis and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.

Notable covers

Massive Attack: “New Dawn Fades”

Moby: “New Dawn Fades”

Pavement: “Disorder”

The Killers: “Shadowplay”

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