Joy Division

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Unknown Pleasures (1979), 7.5/10
Closer (1980), 7/10

The two albums cut by Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980), before vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide and the band evolved into New Order, coined a new kind of gothic, decadent, futuristic and psychedelic rock, and offered an unlikely mixture of Doors, Kraftwerk and Black Sabbath. Eerie melodies, funereal tempos, electronic arrangements and otherworldly dissonances interpreted the industrial wasteland as a personal nightmare. Their career ended with Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980), which was the beginning of a new genre: synth-pop.
(Italian text translated Tobia D'Onofrio)

Right after the boom of punk-rock, a few British bands started focusing on musical atmosphere, rather than just on anger: Joy Division were one of those. Their sound translated the desolation of the industrial civilization into music. The "gothic" factor (or should we say, the "existential" one) was the least interesting thing, after all. Joy Division gave up the ethos of punk: the band absorbed some electronic music and emphasized a research on the instruments’ timbre, thus forming some kind of "bridge" towards the synth-pop movement that was ready to burst out, just a few months later. These "seeds" were planted into Joy Division and they flourished like an expressionist tragedy. But they were not ready to be instruments of mass consumption yet.

Joy Division (the name is taken from the women sheds inside the nazis’ concentration camps) came out of Manchester in 1979; the same city generated other forerunners, such as the Buzzcocks, with their punk-pop, and The Fall, with their dissonant punk. Less violent than the former and less heretical than the latter, Ian Curtis and his bandmates embraced a gloomy appearance (evoking bleakness, iciness, lonelyness and the dark) that quickly influenced the whole post-punk generation, eager for Apocalypses.

Their "intellectual shivers" were introduced by the android melodies of She's Lost Control (a techno-dance similar to Kraftwerk’s) and Transmission (a boogie in crescendo), and they represented the first symptoms of a new, catastrophic state of confusion that was affecting the "blank generation", a confusion that married the Doors’ visionary lieder to Black Sabbath’s sub-sonic riffs. The dejected singing and the heavy rhythms created a sort of nervous tension worthy of Morrison and Reed, but winking at the late Sixties’ dark sounds and at some morbid abuse of background noises, just like the soundtracks of horror movies. Like Siouxsie, but somehow more quiet and polite than her (maybe thanks to the clear fire of madness), Joy Division emphasized a morbid taste, hinting at catastrophical prophecies between the lines.

Their two full-length albums followed in the Doors’ footsteps, in many ways. Unknown Pleasures (Factory, 1979) starts with the loose screaming of Disorder and the dark vision of Day Of The Lords; once it has fallen into the abyss of martial psychedelic ecstasy (New Dawn Fades), it dives into the ineluctable suffering and emotional catalepsy of I Remember Nothing, their metaphisical version of the Doors’The End. Along the Calvary, the band reels off the driving hard-rock of Interzone, the vibrant melodrama of Shadow Play, the voodoobilly of Wilderness; finally, the Rosary is completed by the singles: the touching Atmosphere, surrounded by celestial organ riffs, and the epic Dead Souls, with a thrilling instrumental crescendo.

The following album, Closer (Factory, 1980), boasts the same accepted practice of emotional collapse, and the listener is taken on a scary journey from the ghostly declamation of Heart And Soul to the dark psychedelic-mantra lull of Eternal, from the techno-pop chorus of Isolation to the gloomy ballad Passover, from A Means To An End, a majestic distorted lysergic hard-rock, to the final triumph of Decades (smooth declamation, liturgical mellotron, cosmic organ, cha-cha rhythm).

The 23 year-old leader committed suicide in 1980 (May), just before Love Will Tear Us Apart

was released. This song is arguably the band’s masterpiece, a majestic and rhythmic melody sung by a fatalist "chansonnier". Ian Curtis’ suicide was consistent with Joy Division’s apology of psychic depression and it cut short the band’s activity (which therefore lasted only a couple of years), thus consecrating Joy Division as a cult and Ian Curtis as an anti-icon.

The rest of the band continued to play changing its name to New Order.

I Joy Division furono uno dei complessi britannici che, subito dopo il boom del punk-rock, spostarono l'enfasi sulle atmosfere invece che sulla semplice rabbia. Il loro sound metteva in musica la desolazione della civilta` industriale. L'elemento "gotico" (o, meglio, esistenziale) era tutto sommato il meno interessante. Assorbendo un minimo di elettronica e conferendo piu` enfasi alla timbrica degli strumenti, i Joy Division di fatto abbandonarono l'ethos del punk e funsero da ponte con il synth-pop che sarebbe esploso pochi mesi dopo. Nei Joy Division questi semi sono ancora a livello di tragedia espressionista, non ancora di consumo di massa.

I Joy Division (nome preso dalle baracche femminili dei campi di concentramento nazisti) emersero nel 1979 dalla citta` di Manchester, la stessa che aveva dato i natali ad altre esperienze anticipatrici come il punk-pop dei Buzzcocks e il punk dissonante dei Fall. Meno violenti dei primi e meno eretici dei secondi, Ian Curtis e compagni adottarono un look catacombale (evocativo di buio, squallore, gelo, solitudine) che riusci` facilmente a suggestionare la generazione post-punk dedita ad overdose di apocalissi.

I loro brividi intellettuali, annunciati dalle melodie androidi She's Lost Control (un ballabile tecnologico alla Kraftwerk) e Transmission (un boogie in crescendo), furono i primi sintomi di un nuovo, piu` acuto stato confusionale della blank generation, nel quale confluivano i riff subsonici dei Black Sabbath e i lieder visionari dei Doors. Il canto avvilito e la ritmica pesante creavano una tensione nervosa di ascendenza "Morrison-iana" e "Reed-iana", ma con ammiccamenti a certo dark-sound fine Sixties e un abuso morboso di rumori di sottofondo da film dell'orrore. Come Siouxsie, ma piu` quieti e ordinati (la limpida fiamma della follia), i Joy Division insistevano sui toni macabri, alludendo tra le righe a scontate profezie catastrofiche.

I loro due album ricalcano per molti versi il cerimoniale dei Doors. Unknown Pleasures (Factory, 1979) si spalanca sul grido sconnesso di Disorder e sulla visione tenebrosa di Day Of The Lords, e, sospinto nel baratro dalla marziale estasi allucinogena di New Dawn Fades, scende la china verso l'ineluttabile tormento e catalessi emotiva di I Remember Nothing, la loro metafisica The End, snocciolando lungo il calvario anche l'incalzante hard-rock di Interzone, il vibrante melodramma di Shadow Play, il voodoobilly di Wilderness. Il rosario e` completato dai 45 giri: la toccante Atmosphere, avvolta in riff d'organo celestiali, e l'epica Dead Souls, con crescendo strumentale da brivido.

La stessa prassi del collasso emotivo, su Closer (Factory, 1980), porta dalla spettrale declamazione di Heart And Soul alla torbida stasi mantrica e lisergica di Eternal, dal ritornello tecno-pop di Isolation alla ballata funerea Passover, da A Means To An End, solenne hard-rock distorto e psichedelico, all'apoteosi di Decades (recitato morbido, mellotron liturgico, organo cosmico, passo di cha cha).

Substance e` un'antologia che contiene i singoli.

Il suicidio del ventitreenne leader (nel maggio del 1980), poco prima dell'uscita di Love Will Tear Us Apart, forse il loro capolavoro, una melodia ariosa e cadenzata cantata con tono da chansonnier fatalista, chiuse in modo coerente la loro apologia della depressione psichica dopo due soli anni di attivita`, consacrandoli al culto dei kid.

Gli altri proseguiranno il discorso cambiando nome in New Order.

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