Record #380: Joy Division – Unkown Pleasures (1979)

Here it is: the album cover you’ve seen all over Tumblr. All the trendy kids are wearing it on their t-shirts (myself included). Just such a hip album, right?

​But yo, dig it. This album is legendary. It birthed the entire post-punk scene. But it’s not exactly like they were trying to do much different. They were just some Manks trying to play punk rock. They just had a couple hiccups there…

Notably, Bernard Sumner’s poor equipment. His only amp was this small thing that he could barely hear over the din of the pounding drums and driving bass lines. To make himself heard, he would play higher riffs, often scraping his strings into noise rather than proper melodies (it’s worth nothing that bassist Peter Hook first heard Sumner’s guitar parts on the record, as he played too loud live).

Then there’s the atmosphere. There’s an unusual amount of echo on the drums and vocals for a punk record (which Hook famously hated). This is essentially because producer Martin Hannet thought punk rock was boring, and Joy Division didn’t have enough studio experience to argue with him.

The result is a weird, wonderfully dark record that served as the perfect atmosphere for the morose baritone of Ian Curtis, one of rock and roll’s most celebrated and tragic frontmen. While their next album would be much more shaded by Curtis’s suicide, Unknown Pleasures does little to offer contrarian narrative, and would go one to be embraced by weird sad kids everywhere across every generation (that I missed it until after college astounds me.

​Looking at its humble beginnings, it’s amazing that Unknown Pleasures became the monolithic icon it is. More than just a weird underground hit, it has been lauded by every music publication from NME to Rolling Stone. I sometimes wonder if it owes its legacy more to its cover and aesthetic than its songs. But when I revisit it, I am quickly corrected.

One thought on “Record #380: Joy Division – Unkown Pleasures (1979)

  1. Pingback: Record #452: Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (2011) | A Year of Vinyl

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