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Friday, February 2, 2018

Joy Division: Warsaw

JOY DIVISION: WARSAW (1977-1978; 1994)

1) The Drawback; 2) Leaders Of Men; 3) They Walked In Line; 4) Failures; 5) Novelty; 6) No Love Lost; 7) Transmission; 8) Living In The Ice Age; 9) Interzone; 10) Warsaw; 11) Shadowplay; 12) As You Said; 13*) Inside The Line; 14*) Gutz; 15*) At A Later Date; 16*) The Kill; 17*) You're No Good For Me.

General verdict: Well, why not go back in time for a change and see Joy Division as punks rather than post-punks?

Most of the songs on this album were well known to audiences in 1994 — some from Unknown Pleasures, some from singles and EPs gathered on Substance, some from outtakes captured on Still — but all of these versions actually go back to the infamous «RCA Sessions», held by the band in May 1978. The twelve tracks in question were supposed to be their first LP, still provi­sionally titled Warsaw, despite the band already having changed its name to Joy Division. How­ever, things fell through, allegedly due to the band being disappointed with the label's post-production, and although the tracks had been in active bootleg circulation for decades, it was not until 1994 that the record was legally licensed and released by MPG Records.

Naturally, the release itself was a cash-in, considering the unending demand for new Joy Division product, somewhat offset by severed lines of communication between Earth and Ian Curtis. But! In retrospect, this is a brilliant cash-in, and it is awfully sad, really, that this album will always count as an archival document and not as a legit Joy Division product — because not only is it pretty damn good, it also completes the picture in such an effective way as could never be provided by a Still-level or even Substance-level compilation.

Simply put, this is a coherent, comprehensive, and detailed portrait of Joy Division in their infancy — a sort of Please Please Me that only hints at the greatness to come, but this bare hint has a fresh, raw, innocent charm of its own. This is the stage when Joy Division were still a gritty punk band, a stage when Hook, Sumner, and Morris played brutally and aggressively, a stage when Curtis was yet far away from developing his deep Morrison-style voice, preferring to growl and bark in a much higher, much more punkish pitch. True enough, at this stage they had not yet found their unique voice — but hey, they could rock, and the tight, tense, no-nonsense grooves that dominate the album are nothing to sneer at.

I shall not give detailed comments on the individual songs, considering that most of them had been previously discussed one way or another (or not discussed if I did not think they merited special discussion). I will just say that, although the production values throughout are fairly rough, the sound will very much satisfy all those who find problems with Hannett's production and like to hear their Joy Division crisp and powerful, rather than drenched in echo, reverb, and other New Wavish technological effects. I myself reserve judgement, but damn if it isn't at least interesting to hear ʽShadowplayʼ and ʽInterzoneʼ as thick, crunchy rockers with Stooges-like guitar tones (in fact, I have only just realized that ʽInterzoneʼ is a straight-ahead tribute to Fun House, and could fit on that album like a glove). And no electronic gloss on the drums! and not in a piss-poorly recorded live setting! No, this record definitely has some nifty reasons to exist.

In addition to the RCA Sessions, the album goes even deeper in time and throws on five demo tracks from 1977 (back when the band was still named Warsaw) — the first known examples of studio recordings made by the team, with predictably shitty quality but even more reminiscent of the Sex Pistols and other punk pioneers. Actually, ʽGutzʼ, with its insane tempo and undeciphe­rable screaming, might be as close to hardcore as Joy Division ever got — two minutes of all-out blasting stupidity, but loaded with charming determination. Truthfully, most of this stuff is rudi­mentary and derivative shite, but even The Beatles used to be The Quarrymen, and the greater you get, the more fascinating is your backstory.

Cutting a long story short, Warsaw is an absolute must-own for any Joy Division fan, and will be particularly pleasing to those who share the band's own opinion — that Hannett's production sold short their rock-the-house-down abilities. Of course, back at the time this only reflected the narrowness of the band's vision, what with Hannett pushing them into the next decade and the next dimension of musical sound; but now that the age of technological innovation (or, at least, specifically New Wave-related technological innovation) is long past, we have a right to look at these songs from another angle — and somehow, it is nice to know that there was a time when they were brimming with the energy of raw anger and frustration, rather than imploding from within with the internalized energy of doom and depression.


  1. Hi will you review New Order next? (at least the first few singles/records to note the transition to an Ian-less group)

  2. The Stooges song "Penetration" is another clear reference point for Joy Division, the riff sounds very Sumner-esque. There was always this weird art-rock dimension to the Stooges, it's like they were so idiotic that it could only have been high-concept art, like that ten-minute spoken-word thing on their first album situated between such timeless poesy as "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "No Fun." No wonder that many actual art-rockers saw them as an influence; I guess it speaks to the genius of Sumner/Hook/Morris that they could turn that primitive caveman rock to this purpose.