Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Joy Division

  • Unknown Pleasures [Factory, 1980] A-
  • Closer [Factory, 1981] A-
  • Substance [Qwest, 1988] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Unknown Pleasures [Factory, 1980]
With Ian Curtis having hanged himself from the apex of a love triangle well before this 1979 U.K. debut came out in the States, it's hard to pass off his depressiveness as affectation even though critiques of his sincere feelings are definitely in order: the man is idolizing as fast as he oxidizes, a role model as dubious as Sid or Jimbo for the inner-directed set. Nevertheless, it's his passionate gravity that makes the clumsy, disquieting music so convincing--not just a songwriting stroke like "She's Lost Control" but gothic atmosphere like "Candidate" and "I Remember Nothing." Do what he does, not what he did. A-

Closer [Factory, 1981]
Another anticlimactically after-the-fact American release for these purveyors of melancholy and autohypnosis, and enough to make you understand why whole writing seminars haunt the import shops awaiting their next twelve-inch. Ian Curtis's torment is less oppressive here because it's less dominant--the dark, roiling, off-center rhythms have a life of their own. And if last time the dancier material had hooks, this time even the dirges have something closely resembling tunes. A-

Substance [Qwest, 1988]
Where New Order's Substance showcases the trajectory of secret singles specialists, Joy Division's recollects the byways of a natural album band. Starting out as unhysterical punks, they follow their pessimism where it leads, into slower tempos and machinelike rhythms, getting excited only at the end of side one, where enveloped by the dark of night they find their beat and shout out "Dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio." They follow that beat where it leads, back down into a pessimism that's now frankly romantic and personal if you've got the sense to hear it that way. And then love tears them apart. B+