Saturday, October 06, 2007

CD Review No 6- Joy Division

Prompted by the release of the film 'Control', I've bought three Joy Division Cd's recently - Unknown Pleasures , Closer,and a singles compilation, none of which I bought at the time. Sometimes particular musical sounds are very much of their late seventies/early eighties period, such as the drum sound on 'She's Lost Control', though generally they stand up extremely well twenty eight years later. Martin Hannett's unfussy and crisp production style, wisely takes the edge off the mordant and self-preoccupied vocal style of Ian Curtis, stopping it from becoming unbearably confessional, or, knowing what was to follow, portentous. Joy Division didn't last long enough to smooth down all their rough edges and become a stadium band like U2. Longer term this may serve them well, a permanent place of praise in the Rock'n' Roll pantheon is thus assured. Untainted by any sense of betrayal at having sold out, or declining musical potency, or becoming a parody of themselves, they've also been posthumously bequeathed the mirror of tragedy, through which to perceive their entire output.

Curtis's suicide, like Cobaine's in the next decade, sad though it was, has been romanticised to hell and back again. The fact that Joy Divisions music, such as on 'I remember nothing' can be intense and brooding feeds into this mythologising, but this neglects to notice their growing pop sensibility, as on 'Isolation', 'Love will tear us apart' and 'Atmosphere'. Their youthful darkness might have passed, in the same way that Nick Cave's grisly vision became more optimistic as he reached middle age. We also forget the zeitgeist of the time. It was grim up north in the aftermath of a severe late seventies recession, and another one was yet to come. The tone Joy Division set, was as much a reflection of their post- industrial homelands degeneration, as it was a working out lyrically of a personal tragedy. Corbyn's black and white photos of them at that time, and now his film, helped to develop, if not create, both views. The desolate, abandoned bleakness of urban England, drained of all life affirmation and colour, was an equally sentimentalised frame for their musical output.

Factory records were frequently accused of being style merchants lacking substance. Fortunately some of the bands Tony Wilson adopted were major musical talents, Joy Division were the first, and arguably the best of the lot. Stylistically, they have frequently been plundered and plagiarised by lesser musical talents. Most lack their sensitivity, or ability to keep their seriousness from descending into ludicrous self-indulgence, or the sort of mannered melancholy that was entirely boneless posturing. Joy Division were the heirs of northern stoicism, emboldened by a dark and dour energy, that was also strangely affirming, as we hear them making the best they can of a bad job. Spawned from Joy Division's demise, New Order were to develop this further in the altogether brighter landscape of the late eighties, though of lesser significance and influence musically.

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