It's quite simple: if you want to listen to Joy Division's finest hour, then look no further than this, their first album.
Like many fantastic albums, this is not 'immediate', nor is it particularly accessible or masses friendly, nor should it be. Most life-affirming albums grow on people. I estimate that most people will have to listen to this album roughly five times before they start to appreciate all of it's many details, subtleties and nuances, lovingly arranged like some aural landscape.
It's starts off with 'Disorder', in which Ian Curtis declares that he has been waiting for a guide to come and take him by the hand, setting the lost and helpless tone of the entire album. Disorder is a fast and emotionally charged song, climaxing beautifully with Ian Curtis hollering "I've got the spirit, don't lose the feeling", thus encapsulating the fears and attitudes of so many other intelligent young songwriters, bubbling with emotion.
'Day Of The Lords' is an almost perfect example of foreboding and fear, perfectly encapsulated in both it's lyrics and musical sound. It is rife with atmosphere, vibrant and alive, yet painfully unhappy. The desperation with which Curtis demandingly shouts: "Where will it end?" is almost tangible. This is probably the most powerful song on the album.
'Candidate' continues on in similarly bleak fashion, nonchalantly describing the "blood on your fingers", whilst the hazy, threatening music compliments the lyrics perfectly. It is difficult to describe exactly how effectively Joy Division have used sound to create atmosphere on this album, and it is probably even more difficult to achieve.
This atmospheric sense of ominous threat is also used successfully on 'Insight', which contains mechanical sounds in the background, as the music gently eases it's way in, and Curtis sings perhaps one of his most poignant vocals, proclaiming: "I don't care any more, I've lost the will to want more... tears and sadness for you, more upheaval for you". Millions of troubled young music fans must have breathed a sigh of relief that they finally had someone to relate to, a posterchild for the disaffected. Remember, this was the pre-morrissey era, and despair was still a relatively new concept within music.
'New Dawn Fades' is what many people consider to be the best song on this album, and perhaps the best Joy Division song ever, containing the disturbing lyric: "A loaded gun won't set you free... so they say". More understated, yet highly affecting and skilful music sets the scene for Curtis to sing more of his beautiful poetry. Yes, Ian Curtis was indeed a poet, profound through and through, probably more so than the vast majority of contemporary published poets.
'She's Lost Control' is probably one of the more accessible songs on the album, containing one of Joy Division's many forays into electronic sound, but still with a suitable thought-provoking and sober lyric. The very title is unique and descriptive - those three little words suggest so much, subtly encouraging the listener to get their imagination going.
Of course, 'Shadowplay' is vintage Joy Division, as any self-respecting Joy Division fan will attest, from it's fantastic opening riff, to Peter Hook's simple yet hugely effective bassline, to lyrics such as "The assassins all grouped in four lines dancing on the floor". Most lyricists would give their right arm to conjure up such visual imagery - Ian Curtis did it casually!
'Wilderness' and 'Interzone' are also exercises in how to perfectly marry music and vocal so that a perfect relationship is created. This was a band who worked well together - mind-boggling and skilful lyrics, juxtaposed with subtle yet well-made music. No gimmickry, no fancy showmanship or cliched rock-star posturing, just four men making impeccable, life affirming music. Furthermore, they were a band who created 'moods', through sound and experimentation.
Fittingly, 'I Remember Nothing' takes in all of the elements mentioned above, also boasting the startling sound of smashing glass, whilst Curtis eerily howls "We were strangers", like some uber-gothic phantom. What occurs in this song is the Joy Division calling card: an amalgamation of sound, mood, music, vocal and lyric creating a piece of art, rather than just a mere song. It almost seems disrespectful to call such a unique and experimental musical collage a 'song'. This is not backing music, it is an event, to set the mind racing and the imagination ticking over. The fact that the last thing you hear on this album is breaking glass is hugely significant. The album begins and ends the same way, embracing sound, rather than the bog-standard fare of 'intro, verse, chorus'. This is pure aural poetry, lyrically and musically, and it in turns bleak, oppressive, moody, challenging and adept.
Joy Division are peerless, that much is patently clear. Even by their standards, however, this is a stunning masterpiece, alternately timeless and moving. It is both Joy Division's finest moment and the lasting legacy of a man with a razor-sharp mind and a poet's creativity.