Album: Unknown Pleasures
Artist: Joy Division
Released: June 15th, 1979
Highlights: Disorder, She's Lost Control, Shadowplay, Interzone
On stage, Joy Division was as aggressive as any band has ever been. When they entered the studio to record their first album, though, the band was turned into a completely different monster. Martin Hannett's now iconic production was terrifyingly spacious: drums echoed on the vacuum, alien noises appeared threatening on the background, and a feeling of impending doom surrounded all of the songs. The band's anger was, then, diluted by the wide space it was given to show its concentrated force. Although claims were made that the producer did not quite get the group's sound, the truth is he was able to sensitively capture the anguish on Ian Curtis' lyrics and vocals better than anyone else ever would, throwing the singer to the bottom of a well so that his lament could echo on the walls.
In spite of the impressive transformation, the band's signature sound - one that would become the purest definition of post-punk - was not lost, but highlighted. It all starts with Peter Hook's bass, which is the central melodic point of the band's instrumentation, and Bernard Sumner's guitar punctually coming in to fill up the voids with menacing distorted feedbacks. Equally mixed with that noisy emptiness, Ian Curtis voice walked the line between distantly singing and emotionally talking, perfectly conveying the borderline autistic pain of it all. "Unknown Pleasures" is one of music's most brutal and raw exposures of a disturbed interior, and it manages to be deeply frightening and truthfully engaging. It is a wreck waiting to happen, but it is impossible not to look.
Album: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actionc
Artist: Franz Ferdinand
Released: August 26th, 2013
Highlights: Right Action, Bullet, Treason! Animals., The Universe Expanded
After "Tonight", an album on which electronic elements took over from the dancing rhythm of Franz Ferdinand's guitars, "Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action" arrives carrying on its back the expectations of being a return to form. In a certain way, the album fits that bill. Although guitars are prominent on some riff-based songs - "Right Action", "Bullet" and "Treason! Animals." - overall, they are far from being as vibrant and dominant as they were on the band's first two releases. Still, instead of lacking purpose and focus like most of "Tonight", "Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action" is very resolute, and after a few listens it becomes impossible to point at any of the album's ten tracks and call it lacking or uninspired.
Kapranos still employs his weird sense of humor and sexuality on the lyrics and vocal deliveries, and the band's rhythm still sounds like fine-tuned clockwork. The main change that supports such a big musical improvement is certainly the better integration of the electric instruments with the electronic pieces they have grown found of on the full embracing of the nightclub vibe that their early records suggested. There are no sweeping hits like "Do You Want To" or half of their first album, but there are many energetic numbers like "Love Illumination", and introspective ones, such as the glorious ballad "The Universe Expanded" where Alex cleverly describes of the disintegration of a relationship played backwards. The album makes it clear that while there is no going back to where they started, the road ahead can still hold some pleasant turns.
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Released: September 6th, 2013
Highlights: Do I Wanna Know?, No. 1 Party Anthem, Fireside, Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?
Eight years, and five albums. While that number would be about par for the course some thirty years ago, at this day and age it puts Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys as one of the most productive acts in modern music. Production is not all that matters for these Sheffield lads, though, as all of their works have presented significant steps forward and great quality. "AM", is the latest result of that fantastic creative string, and here the boys have stumbled upon an impressive sound. Alex Turner's skills for creating rock hooks are dressed up in beats and falsettos - added by Nick O'Malley - more commonly found in popular night clubs. The songs are never aggressive, and Turner sounds like a man conflicted between staying home and mourning for a lost love, or going out to some party to forget all about it.
Ultimately, the record's nocturnal sound and its obsessive lyrics, which are clear in the album's conclusion "I Wanna Be Yours", indicate the party was not a cure for the sadness. Although there is a tangible desire to be taken by the night's music - "Mad Sounds" - and encounters with other women - "Arabella" - Alex cannot keep his mind away from his lover. In putting emphasis on the beats created by Nick's bass and Matt's drums, the band conjures a sound that is able to equally transit between rap - "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?", dense ballads - "No. 1 Party Anthem", and downright sexy rock tunes - "Do I Wanna Know?". In spite of a couple of below-average tunes, "AM" is an undeniable achievement that shows a mature band changing their sound, adding a few tricks to their deck while maintaining high musical flexibility, and producing a musically consistent album along the way.
Album: Modern Life is Rubbish
Released: May 10th, 1993
Highlights: For Tomorrow, Star Shaped, Chemical World, Sunday Sunday
After leaving Great Britain for a brief and unsuccessful US tour, Blur returned home to find their backyard taken over by a wave of American grunge bands. "Modern Life is Rubbish" is the band's attempt to take it back, and it is such a strong statement that aside from succeeding in kicking grunge back across the pond, it also provided the initial spark for the Britpop movement. It is a musical uprising with tunes that cover numerous subgenres of rock, and where the only constant are the band's fantastic songwriting skills. It is an attempt to revive the island's strong musical culture, and it tries to achieve it by making the pot boil rather than sing false praises to a lifestyle that does not please a new generation.
As its title so succinctly points out, "Modern Life is Rubbish" is focused on the dullness of it all. It criticizes the citizen that is satisfied with a life that is not fulfilling, and that is so adapted to a hollow routine that he does not want it to change. Blur channels the anger of a generation towards what is, and what should never have been. At its heart, it is a bitter album, but it is also energetic and it presents glorious pop hooks on its choruses without losing its dangerously sharp edge. Less than two decades after punk came to be, Blur - while acknowledging the fact that the battle with the system had been lost - showed that a part of the country's youth was not content with the defeat, and even if the album's second half drags a little bit due to the inappropriately lengthy "Oily Water" and "Miss America", the message was still sent with resounding power.