Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brooklyn Record Riot - What I Found (Part Two)

Notes on two used CDs purchased at the Riot - part of my continuing and almost completed series. These were both non-deluxe editions, just the original albums on CD.

Joy Division - Closer (CD)

Before wading into this, I have to admit to being one of those people who didn't know much about Joy Division before the recent uptick in mainstream attention they've received . I certainly knew their reputation, their cult status, their place in the canon, but I hadn't really heard much of the music. They were somewhere in my mental list of "important bands to check out", but I never seemed to around to checking them out. 24-Hour Party People opened the door for me, and I'd watched that mainly because I wanted to see another Steve Coogan-Michael Winterbottom collaboration after enjoying Tristram Shandy. Then came the Joy Division/Control two-fer. I liked all three (Control maybe the least), and there was a cumulative interest in seeing how the same events were represented in three contemporary movies, particularly 24 Hour's somewhat-less-than-somber treatment of Ian Curtis' suicide. I'm sure some people found Winterbottom's approach inappropriate, but it was consistent with the tone of the rest of the movie and seemed to capture some sort of slightly perverse Mancunian/Tony Wilson/Factory spirit.

Returning to Closer, it seems to me that the least innovative and influential aspects of Joy Division's music were Curtis' lyrics and vocals. That's less a knock than an acknowledgment that he was sui generis and that imitating him is likely to be a dead-end proposition. His contributions to Closer's sound are "none more black", and while absolutely key to the album's mood and overall effect, I don't see where you can go from there. Everything else - the production, the song structures, the rhythms, the bass-drums-guitar-synth sounds - have all been copied and used as jumping-off points for innumerable bands, albums, and whole sub-genres. These guys weren't tremendously skilled musicians, but they were one of those groups that created a capital-s Sound. Further listens may change my mind, but I don't think anything on Closer tops the great singles: "Atmosphere", "Digital", "Transmission", "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

Brian Eno - Music for Films (CD)

I've given this one about 1/2 of a close listen so far and a couple of background spins. If you take the liner notes to Discreet Music seriously, you might argue that background listening is the most appropriate mode of listening for Eno's ambient music. Either way, my impressions on this so far are very positive. It's somewhat more varied than the later Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, but still feels of a piece. Lots of short compositions, with some of the guitar textures more often associated with Eno's "rock" albums providing occasional disturbances in the ambient force field. Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, and surprising-to-many Eno regular Phil Collins appear. I'd say I enjoy this more than Music for Airports but not quite as much as the beautiful, Daniel Lanois-on-pedal-steel-assisted Apollo. Fitting Discreet Music into this hierarchy might require a few more listens to Music for Airports and a short essay.

No comments: