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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 14 March 2007
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.
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Apologies for the cheesy compilation style title of this review but he fact is that when it comes to Joy Division's debut "Unknown Pleasures" it is difficult to contest. There are those who would make a strong case for the Smiths classic "The Queen is Dead", the Stone Roses eponymous debut, possibly Oasis finest moment "Definitely Maybe", and the joyous anarchy​ of Happy Mondays "Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches". Any other number of albums by the Fall or New Order could also stake a claim. The titles show that the city of Manchester has been peerless in churning out of the greatest UK bands on a conveyor belt as productive as the one in Wales that produces outside half's. But time after time it is Joy Division's dark masterpiece that is pulled out of the CD rack and which haunts everything which follows.

Accepting some basic facts about the album makes "Unknown Pleasures" great before the vinyl is placed on the turntable. It was released on 14 June 1979, through Factory Records and produced by the troubled "hippie" genius of Martin Hannett. Factory boss Tony Wilson, the posh situationist, invested the whole of his savings account into the first run of 10,000 and championed the band like an intellectual football supporter. He was later affectionately played for laughs by Steve Coogan in "24 Hour Party People", yet no one can detract from Wilson's achievement at Factory. Then there is the startling pulsed image of the Peter Saville still selling today as famous emblem on T shirts bought by many who may not be aware of the source. Finally let's not forget those haunting black and white photo's from the era by Dutch photographer Anton Corbjin who later made his big film debut with "Control" the biopic of the band.

It is almost superfluous to review the music. It forms part of the air we breathe and nothing since by any band has come close to the sepulchral gravity captured on this album. Starting with "Disorder" there is the sound of Stephen Morris synthesized drumming, Hook's bass wandering all over the terrain and Bernie Sumner's guitar so sharp you could shave with it. Ian Curtis's arrival barely needs comment. One of the greatest rock voices ever, a dominant baritone that betrayed his youth. When he screams at the end of the song "I've got the spirit/ but where's the feeling" it almost scary and the intensity doesn't let up with the chugging "Day of the Lords" or the eerie power of "Candidate*. It is "Insight" nevertheless that somehow rises above the brilliance of all the other songs on the album and looks down on them all. The slower version on the Peel Sessions actually matches the album version. "Insight" is a brooding sonnet where Curtis vocal resonates down the years. His lyrics are masterful and the repeating of the word "time" in the following verse a stroke of genius. "Tears of sadness for you/More upheaval for you,/Reflects a moment in time,/A special moment in time,/Yeah we wasted our time,/We didn't really have time,/But we remember when we were young". When he passionately asserts that "I'm not afraid anymore" his vocal betrays the truth. The middle part of the album comprising three songs "New Dawn Fades", "She's Lost Control" and the epic "Shadowplay" land with the weight of a huge punch. "She's lost control" is the most well known not least for its famous live performance on "Something Else" on 15th September 1979 where against a backdrop of call and answer guitar and bass, vice tight drumming from Morris we see Curtis combining innocence and intensity to astounding effect. There is something indefinable about that look in his eyes and when then manic epileptic dance commences you daren't take your eyes off the screen in case you miss one second of history in the making. The album fades away with the almost funky "Wilderness" (Joy Division were after all a good time band) the sharp post-punk of "Interzone" and the massive "I remember nothing" soundtracked by broken glass and burning with intensity for nearly six minutes.

We all know that in "real life" Curtis was one of the lads with a love of practical jokes and a mouth like Gordon Ramsey. But the stage transformed him. Something happened to him up there. The power of those words often inspired by Ballard and Burroughs took him to another realm albeit for such a whisper in time. The band itself was a force of nature and New Order went on to world domination but sadly it all ended in world beating levels of animosity. For this reviewer New Order always left a nagging doubt even at their height with the Ibiza fuelled brilliance of "Technique". Peter Hook came close to capturing this unease in his recent autobiography named after this album where he confessed that Curtis's death robbed his band mates of the "glue that held us together". E'qually importantly the death of manager and friend Rob Gretton in 1999 "left nobody". Rock music is full of cliches about its "better to burn out than fade away". In the case of Joy Division its utter nonsense. Think of what they achieved in two seminal albums particularly this debut and think of what might have been.
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on 7 May 2006
For some reason it's taken me 15 years of knowing about Unknown Pleasures to actually get round to buying it. I guess I always thought it was going to be too oppressive, too claustrophobic and too haunted by the ghost of Ian Curtis to be anything other than a depressing and down-right dreary experience.

But actually I really was very wrong! Listening to Unknown Pleasures isn't a depressing or oppressive experience (despite what other people might say.) Intense and dark, yes, and I'd admit to Ian Curtis' lyrics being on the dreary side, but Joy Division knew how to write songs, and the sheer melody of tracks like She's Lost Control and Disorder are positively up-lifting.

Also, Unknown Pleasure is one of the most spacious sounding albums I've heard. Apparently Martin Hannett recorded each instrument separately (including each drum of the drum kit) giving the album its clean-cut and pure sound. It means even when Joy Division 'rock out' (as on Interzone) the guitar sounds clipped and self-contained, brimming with barely repressed energy. It also gives the album quite an electronic feel, an effect enhanced by the many studio tweaks (the echo-effect on Ian Curtis voice on She's Lost Control, the wooshes and laser sounds on Insight, for example.)

The sparse sound also sets the stage for Ian Curtis' characteristically haunted vocals, the only element allowed to be expansive and emotional. It cannot be over-stated just how beautiful and harrowing Ian Curtis voice is. He sings with a passion and intensity that leaves you feeling suddenly slightly under-whelmed by Editors and their ilk.

Like other great post punk albums of the era (eg Fear of Music, Entertainment!), Unknown Pleasures is very much an artefact of the studio; no attempt has been made to recreate any sort of 'live' sound. This give it its unique and timeless quality (it really sounds nothing like anything else in 1979, or frankly any other year since) and I think as much as anything else makes me dare to call it a classic...
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on 13 October 2004
Are Joy Division the most important band of all time? Most probably. And for me 'Unknown Pleasures' has to be their finest hour. Unashamedly bleak, stark and tense this album really leads you firmly into the darker recesses of the human psyche, if you think that Ian Curtis is purely singing about himself then you are missing the point, these are hymns to all human experience if only you choose to open your mind to the necessary thought processes and let the songs do their job. Musically I will admit that this may not be an album that you can listen to every day but I think to do so would cheapen it, this is not music to pop on the iPod on the way to work, this demands your undivided attention. There is so much beauty here, it is indeed intensely dark but Ian Curtis' sincerity and honesty are breath-taking, the man was really laying himself open, using his own troubled mind almost like a map for the rest of us to study and apply. I've been listening to this album for roughly 20 years and it still sounds unbelievably fresh, it can still bring unbridled joy and induce anxiety in equal measures. I have no desire to separate individual tracks for special mention as I honestly believe the album has to be appraised as a whole single unit and I find it difficult to pick out any snippet of lyrics because they all need each other to make sense but I guess I do love the lines 'Different colours, different shades - over each mistake we made - directionless so plain to see - a loaded gun won't set you free'. Just buy this album. Infact buy the 'Heart and Soul' box-set as well, okay all the 'Unknown Pleasures' tracks are in the box but you'll need a separate copy. Genius is a word that gets thrown around far too easily but this is the real deal, genuine and true genius.
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on 5 October 2002
"I need a guide to come and take me by the hand," Ian Curtis tells us in that flat, monotonous voice for the opening song, "Disorder". In every single way it sets the scene for what is to come from this album, which is regularly seen as one of the best of all time. The short, almost chirpy bursts of guitar riffs, the robotic, metallic like drumming, that harrassing bass and Curtis' truly frightening voice all make this opening song what it is, thrilling. However, you really feel the expectations of greater things to come, and that is absolutely correct. "Days Of The Lords" is stunning, with some monumentally good lyrics, "This is the room/The start of it all/No portrait so fine/Only Sheets on the wall", and guitar riffs that other bands would have killed to call their own. "Candidate" is a quiet (but highly bleak) song, featuring that now highly poignant lyric "It's creeping up slowly, that last fatal hour". "Insight" continues in the same way, with all sorts of clanging and dripping noises starting the track off, as if Curtis is making a journey through some sort of dirty jail. Indeed, a final slam of a door signals his arrival, as the music kicks in straight afterwards. "Wilderness", "New Dawn Fades" and "Interzone" are all incredibly strong tracks, but it is "Shadowplay" and "She's Lost Control" that really make this album what it is: A classic. "She's Lost Control" is hypnotic and gritty (the subject matter isn't on berserk girlfriends, but Curtis' worsening epilepsy), and at the finale features the most mesmerising guitar riffs I've ever heard. All in all, an album that will forever be seen as a bleak, but defining moment in music history. Joy Division and Ian Curtis may be dead, but these songs will always make them last forever.
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on 27 June 2000
Dark, brooding, caustrophobic...genius. Joy division's debut is their masterpiece: at once driving, powerful music, and at the same moment vunerable, withering music of the soul. Day of the Lords and Shadowplay are examples of Joy division's soundscapes that borrowed from the previous decade's nihilsim and created the sound of being alone and desolate. The stark cover, abrasive bass lines and otherworldy production portray the world of Ian Curtis as a man whom had looked through life, and not liked what he had seen.
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on 8 March 2013
Having been born in 1977, I had the pleasure of being in my teens when the Rave era reached it's peak, Oasis and Blur were doing battle, Jarvis Cocker was jumping around behind Michael Jackson at The Brits and Reef released their iconic single "Put your hands on" (not "put your hands up" as many annoying student will still chant whenever this song comes on in a bar on a Saturday night).
So fortunately being a child during the late 70s and Early 80s I really cannot remember Britain under Thatcher as being on the brink of collapse. The rich getting richer and the poor getting trodden upon. But this album and it's dark lyrics some up everything about that era. The uncertainty and dismay echoes from one track to the next. This album is simply amazing and would be sat at the top of the album charts if released for the first time ever. If you want to listen to something that will stir your emotions then this is it. Simply amazing!!!!!!!
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on 29 September 2001
Forget Nirvana. Forget the Beatles. Forget Radiohead. This album is probably the greatest ever made. 4 young men in a punk band called Warsaw change their name and sound & hire a fantastic producer and produce one of the cornerstones of rock music.
The album begins brilliantly with Disorder and its familiar intro before plunging into darker territory on Day of the Lords, with its despairing lyrics & primitive guitars. Candidate and Insight, the 2 weakest tracks on the album, follow, and then comes the incredible New Dawn Fades, followed by the taught, jerky yet haunting She's Lost Control
and the explosive Shadowplay. The dark Wilderness and punky Interzone follow and the whole album is brought to a close by the slow, oppressive I Remember Nothing, with its smashed glass and falling steel samples.
The whole album just washes over you and overpowers you, especially in the vocal and guitar departments. The lyrics are some of the darkest ever written. This is rock stripped of all American elements and made into a much more sinister, expressive and frightening thing. Listen with the lights out & the volume up.
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on 1 January 2007
Awesome. Contrast the tiny amount of 'reviews' slagging this masterpiece and those who know its true magic. Bit of a 20-1 ratio isn't it? That speaks volumes and so does the music on Joy Division's debut album.

It's difficult to assess just how seismic this album was when it was released in '79: punk was on its final innings, its anger disipated through as its three-chord-three-minute ethos became threadbare. With little else in the sonic or musical palette, punk was hard on the rocks and sinking with all hands. Joy Division "hoped a little more" and could see that something new was coming. Punk had become a blunt instrument (sic) and Unknown Pleasures pointed the way towards something different.

The musical and lyrical depth here cannot be underestimated: listen to Disorder, She's Lost Control or the truly magnificent Insight. Curtis looks back over the wreakage of what has gone before: "But I don't care anymore/I've lost the will to want more/I'm not afraid, not at all/I keep my eyes on the door but I remember when we were young".

UP is arguably one of the finest albums Martin Hannett ever produced. Both band and producer were setting out to make a point and they certainly made it. For the full story, buy either this and Closer or the Heart & Soul boxset (which is very comprehensive, featuring previously rare and unheard material). Either way, buy this album and know its pleasure...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 May 2013
I was thinking again about this 1979 debut album from Manchester's finest (OK along with Steven's mob) and wondering about the meaning and/or significance of the title. I'm not sure whether the band had anything specific in mind (maybe an attempt to dispel misplaced assumptions about their name) but certainly this collection of songs might have been viewed as rather impenetrable on first listening (particularly given the superficial immediacy - 1-2-3 go! - of much of the music around at the time). Indeed, in their previous incarnation as Warsaw, the band exhibited a closer link with punk (albeit not quite of the 1-2-3 go! kind) whilst also providing clear pointers to their later more distinctive style. Indeed, this style was to prove a tad revolutionary in musical terms, making them one of the most influential bands (I would argue) of all time (in the same league, in this respect as The Velvets, Bowie and The Smiths) and certainly one of the most exciting (and powerful) live bands I ever saw from this era, along with The Clash.

Funnily enough, though, I do have something of a bugbear with Unknown Pleasures, namely Martin Hannett's production. Now I know it could be argued that the muted, industrial sound (like something from Lynch's Eraserhead) of the album stacked up with the band's monochrome visual appearance and restraint (apart, of course, from Ian Curtis' manic live dancing), however I still would have preferred something slightly crisper (still raw, though) that conveyed more of their stunning live sound. I guess, given Hannett's reputation, the band were also probably wary of getting thumped if they tried to impose their views too far (I've read that Bernard Sumner had a similar feeling about the album's sound).

Despite these reservations, though, what is not in doubt is that this was (is) a collection of brilliantly vibrant, atmospheric and powerful songs, and featuring some of the most poetic lyrics you will ever hear, filled to the brim with Ian Curtis' feelings of personal angst. Of course, the band also featured one of the top rhythm sections of their era in Steve Morris' dextrous drumming and Peter Hook's distinctive, low-slung, pounding bass, all overlaid with Bernard Sumner (née Albrecht's) minimalist guitar. Of the songs, probably the most well-loved (by me also) would include the brilliant (and somewhat uncharacteristic) up-tempo opener Disorder, the sonic powerhouses of Day Of The Lords, New Dawn Fades and Shadowplay, together with (probably the most 'commercial' song here ) She's Lost Control. However, we should also not lose sight of the fact that even the less immediately imposing songs such as the atmospheric Candidate and Wilderness, together with the more overtly punky Interzone, are each perfectly judged gems.

I would certainly set aside any doubts about the overall sound characteristics and proclaim Unknown Pleasures as a 'must have' album.
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