Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures at 30

This week see the 30th anniversary of the release of Joy Division’s debut album, Unknown Pleasures. Somewhat surprisingly, to me at least, the New Musical Express has published an anniversary “special” featuring interviews with the surviving members (sadly not online), which we can probably take as a sign that the nation’s 16/17 year olds still think Joy Division matter an awful lot. Which is amazing for an album that peaked at number 71 in the album charts on its initial release.

The album was recorded in the winter of 1979 in an unheated studio in Stockport and it captures the mood of imposing decay of Northern Britain with its austere and dark production. Unknown Pleasures is firmly fixed in a time and place: the Manchester of the late seventies, and yet its appeal endures.

At the time Jon Savage, writing in Melody Maker in 1979, praised, ” Joy Division’s spatial, circular themes and Martin Hannett’s shiny, waking-dream production gloss. …. [a] perfect reflection of Manchester’s dark spaces and empty places: endless sodium lights and hidden semis seen from a speeding car, vacant industrial sites – the endless detritus of the 19th century – seen gaping like rotten teeth from an orange bus.”

In remains, to my mind, one of the greatest albums of all time. From the deliciously minimalist cover designed by Peter Saville (which was recently parodied as a Pelican Classic, above right) to the equally minimal, and haunting, production by Martin Hannett, to the ten beautifully crafted songs which simply refuse to date. We are still in its axis, musically at least. Think of this way, we are as far away in time from Unknown Pleasures as Joy Division were from the music of Perry Cormo and Frankie Laine and yet still it features on the front cover of the music press.

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