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Album Reviews

Translated by Michel from the original French here is Mishka Assayas reviews as published in the French magazine Rock and Folk 1980. (thanks Michel)

Review of Unknown Pleasures and Closer :
"What should I do ? Show my Unknown Pleasures vinyl copy, totally worn-out, scratching, frayed, like Get Happy !! or the first Specials record ? I don't know what to do anymore to break the deplorable scandalous image of JD in France.
As every band whose reputation remains stupidly underground, and whose records are not to be found easily, JD is always considered in France as gloomy, vaguely fashionable, bought by a bunch of maniacs who don't even listen to it. Band for neurasthenics, people whose main concern is to think about life and death, like Peter Hammill. Let's forget about that. Since mid-79, JD has been the most powerful antidote to the musical valium (Elvis Costello, Strict time) which threatens to anaesthetize us for good, week after week.
Unknown Pleasures makes us believe that there's still some hope, that you can meet people who can't stand lazyness and who develop their inner strength when they are confronted to the world misery. To be honest, UP, with its granulous, anonymous and hermetic cover, stays 1979 most rapturous record. I mean it keeps its listener, in a state of tension and dread; and the release brought by the songs to the listener is something exuberant and exhilarating. I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand ... : do you know many records beginning with such classical and necessary words - you can count them on the fingers of one hand.
As early as Disorder, Ian Curtis's voice raises with an unwarranted humble strength. Husky, frightened, foreign, it seems to terrorize in the first place the body it belongs to. Disorder with its animal, repetitive and overwhelming riff, is the product of a band who would have survived everything, inherited a chaotic, invertebrate world, and can stand up only thanks to desperate discipline and asceticism. In that fight with a collapsing world, JD triumphs with an unpredictable ferocity and jubilation : the conquering rage of Wilderness, rash exploration through pale ruins, with the drums which seem to roll down the staircase, the guitar which flies over everything sounding like a helicopter engine, but for a few seconds stands aside a start of terrifying lucidity of Ian Curtis (They had tears in their eyes/tears in their eyes).
The somnanbulistic Insight, with its rhythm which stands all by itself, fastens the cardiac beating. Calmed down, unconcerned, Ian Curtis follows the endless ricochets of the song. Once again, the break is the most intense moment : Curtis sings softly, slowing down the pace But I remember/When we were young before raising his voice (I'm not afraid anymore/ I'm not afraid anymore...).
The dense, claustropobic texture of UP is mainly due to Martin Hannett's breathtaking work : instead of working on each instrument separately, he proceeds by successive implosions and turns the sound towards the inside. Boundless echoes, impenetrable instrument layers ... Hannett, a madman, has invented the most human sound of the decade. Call it industrial, psychedelic, it's the sound that everyone will try to copy for quite a while. And that will remain JD's sound.
Closer came out in a totally different context. Ian Curtis had hanged himself in may near Manchester a few days after the last recording sessions, the day before the band was due to go to America; in the UK JD was on the verge of becoming big business. Curtis was an epileptic, may be a schizophrenic; he was above all a very shy person, sometimes exuberant, sometimes mute. His sordid, discreet death was in no way predestined by a morbid pernicious - or what else do I know - music, as cliches attached to JD would make one believe. JD's music was pure. This was not enough to heal Curtis.
The most touching thing in Closer is surely the sudden shyness of Ian Curtis's voice. Instead of raising his voice in climaxes, he tried almost awkwardly to sing in a bright and calm tone. Closer A-side presents an extreme development of UP : dislocated songs, musical jungle and relentless rhythms. With its drums dull and brutal rolling and its disembodied guitar, plus the calm of the bass and the voice in counter-point, Atrocity Exhibition delivers a kind of ritual introduction to Closer. Up to A Means To An End, we go deep into a dreadful but always dazzling chaos. But the B-side, probably recorded a few days later, along with the essential single Love Will Tear Us Apart, goes where nobody ever ventured.
No musical experiment, no arrangement complexity, just an appeased and sovereign clarity. Heart And Soul, The Eternal and Decades (aka Memories) change the density of the air in the place where you're listening to this record : everything falls back, thickens and shines. Piano la Satie, out-of-date ingenuous mellotron, The Eternal and Decades bring release tears to the listener's eyes. Along with John Cale's, JD's records are the only one where ballades have a basic meaning. Closer took the benefit of a miraculous conjuction; it is a magical and intangible work.
Even if I repeat myself, I can only think of Get Happy !! to be as steady, crucial and indispensable. And as things go, I'm not speaking for 1980 but for the decade.".

Rock 'n' Folk (France) 1980