The post-punk period must be one of the most interesting times in terms of British music. If punk rose to combat the swathes of prog-rock and endless keyboard warbling that was troubling the charts, then post-punk is the natural progression of that art form.
Where 1977’s UK punk music was often drenched in distorted guitars, and the vocalists made little attempt to carry a tune, post-punk seems to offer a little more. Joy Division’s instrumentation is stark but audible. You can clearly hear that they’re not masters of their instruments yet. Bernard Sumner plays his guitar like a sixth-form student who only picked it up a couple of months ago, Peter Hook’s noodling suggests he doesn’t understand the purpose of a bassline and would rather be playing guitar, and Steven Morris’s drums are only interesting because of Martin Hannet’s brilliant, ahead-of-its-time production.
We’re all here for Ian Curtis’ vocals though. Crooning over such disparate music sure makes for an interesting mix of styles. I often wonder how much Curtis’ style of singing influenced the New Wave of the early 1980s, and wider pop music through the rest of the decade. If the Beatles and their contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic retained the scream of late ‘50s rock and roll, which then evolved into the back-to-basics growl of punk, then Curtis seems to do something completely different. His vocal style is more in line with the drawn-out drawl of Jim Morrison. I shudder to think that this might be responsible for Neil Tennant’s horribly over-enunciated vocals for the Pet Shop Boys. Ugh, I hope not.
I might not listen to Unknown Pleasures often – it’s musically too primitive for my likings – but I understand and appreciate its importance. The album’s just turned 40, and people are still talking about it. The desolate nature of the music reminds me of Manchester too – of cold, stark streets and empty bus-rides when your only warmth is from that night’s beer. When I think of Manchester music, I don’t think of Mick Hucknall’s plastic soul, or Shaun Ryder’s baggy party music. I don’t think of the jangle of the Smiths or, thankfully, the mediocre Dad-rock of Oasis. I think of Curtis, Sumner, Hook and Morris standing next to a dual-carriageway in the snow.
Hidden Gem: Day Of The Lords