Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sad and obsessive behaviour

I must admit to being a bit of a Joy Division tragic. Although I was very young when they turned into New Order, the re-release of their albums in the late 80s found me at an impressionable age and an indie kid to boot. The only JD you would hear typically came at an "alternative" dance night when you'd badgered the DJ for hours to put some on then yo'd be treated to Love Will Tear Us Apart... and a largely empty dance floor.

The sad and frustrating story of the lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide is part of popular culture now having been turned into a film on at least two occasions quite recently (C0ntrol, 24 Hour Party People) but when I started listening to JD it was all very confusing adding to the mystique of the band (give me a break, I was an adolescent...) Living within driving distance of Manchester meant that I could head over to visit the town regularly which cemented a love of the city's music that began with the Smiths and continues to this day. It was an odd experience to walk through Afleck's Palace, loading up with JD posters and a copy of the Komakino flexi disc to take off to college and stick on the walls (the posters, not the disc) . Felt like proximity to the band. Hard to explain but strongly remembered times for me. Probably due to me being 17.

Anyway, this Christmas I received a copy of Who Killed Martin Hannett? , a painfully complete description of the relationship between the man who produced their albums and the band seen by his "best friend" (it says here). The full story of Martin Hannett would take a book to go through (as you can see from the fact that someone has written one) but suffice to say he was credited with the band developing a unique sound, of being a control freak / perfectionist and being increasingly fond of heroin as the albums progressed. Martin H died in 1991 and his story reads like Wired, the John Belushi biography where, even if you didn't know the Belushi story and question the veracity of Woodward's account, you just know the guy has to die soon the way he's going on. I had the same vibe about the author of the Hannett book whilst reading it... imagine my lack of surprise when I found that he had passed away in September last year, poor guy.

Leaving this ghoulish aspect of the Factory story, this brings me to the album of Martin Hannett's Personal Mixes, the cover of which is at the top of this piece. Browsing through a vinyl shop in the CBD, I came this vinyl (mmm... 180g) and having heard about it elsewhere, I laid out the frankly painful $39.98 to buy it. The music here falls into three categories: different mixes, some sound effect recordings (interesting.... having heard them so often as part of a JD song) and a couple of interview snatches (not worth discussing). This album has had mixed reviews, but for a sad man like me it's been an insight.

Basically, it looks like Hannett's reputation for a love of delay and treble is well founded. What is more surprising is the amount of bass that is in the front of the mix. Almost capable of causing nausea. The top end hiss on the recordings of Autosuggestion plays from left to right and causes more disorientation. Two of my favorite tracks on Closer, The Eternal and Decades (which I used to listen to so much as a teenager it still causes my father conniptions) are provided in mixes which only show their differences if you've heard them a thousand times before. The sounds seems comprised of only top and bottom end (bass drum and snare, bass guitar and strange trebly jangling guitar parts) which may have been the idea: to let the singer's voice stand alone in the middle ground with only the sibilants venturng out of this territory.

At the end of side four comes a probably intentional piece of iconoclasm added to provide some contrast: someone telling Ian Curtis to "F*ck off".

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