/ Love will tear us apart, Factory, 1980
Surprisingly, since they emerged from that catalytic moment when the Sex Pistols played Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976, Joy Division were not a singles band. They found their feet as Factory set about doing its own sweet thing, tearing up the rules as it went, and as a result the group’s releases were not of the LP and supporting singles kind. Their pre-Factory EP was followed by a part-contribution to the Factory sample double seven inch, a flexi, and just three singles before Ian Curtis committed suicide, with one of those, ‘Atmosphere’, being made more widely available only after his death. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Joy Division did not have time to become a singles band; of course, the new entity with a new name that arose from the wreckage of Curtis’ death released not only a succession of great singles but three or four that were as catalytic in their own right as the evening that the Sex Pistols played to forty-odd souls in Manchester.
Together with XTC’s Drums and wires, Unknown pleasures is for this writer the default setting against which the sonic qualities of all subsequent music is assessed. Since I first encountered it, there hasn’t been a year in which I haven’t played it at least once. Closer also comes close to this benchmark, but Unknown pleasures is darkness measured in shades of electroacoustic light; it is fear and horror and alienation named and managed and transformed into wonderful, hard-wearing art. It remains one of the great tragedies of popular music that one of the men who made it could not continue to find solace in turning bleakness into beauty.
The bubbling syncopation threaded through ‘These days’ tentatively anticipates the dancefloor invention of New Order’s ‘Confusion’. It’s an atypical Joy Division song, which as it peaks sees them at their most psychedelic; not a tendency that they are noted for – usually transcendence was achieved by filtering the rhythms of Can and Neu! through Martin Hannett’s production, and through the bleakness Curtis vocalised, poetically lifting from his own life as much as from dystopian sci-fi and the heaviest Russian novelists. Lyrically ‘These days’ is another take on the subject matter of its famous flipside, but one which is less morbidly certain in its outlook. One couplet stands out:
Spent all my time, learnt a killer’s art
Took threats and abuse ’till I’d learnt the part
And then there are the closing lines, with a hauntingly vague glimmer of hope giving way to a final, doom-laden question:
We’ll drift through it all, it’s the modern age
Take care of it all now these debts are paid
Can you stay for these days?