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Warsaw: Warsaw (Joy Division,1977/78)

February 1, 2012

Unimportant Notice. New year, new banner graphic. This change is also due to the acquisition of two more IKEA Benno shelving units (one for Jazz and one for 20th/21st Century Composers) meaning the six-sided die has been replaced with an eight-sided die (you can read more about the nerdy CD selection system on the About page). Fun Fact: The picture in the banner is the actual dice used and not just something I found on Google. True story.

Joy_division_warsawRoll: 3-3-17
Album: Warsaw (Joy Division), Warsaw

I remember this album of early Joy Division recordings was one of those rare bootlegs you’d have to pay ransom prices for and, if you could find it at all, was only available on vinyl. But I could be mistaken on that point. I didn’t buy a copy until a few years ago when I picked up this CD for a reasonable, and I’m pretty sure discounted, price.

At some point between the mid-nineties and now, Joy Division either got popular enough that this material had been pressed in large enough quantities so that it was no longer considered rare or people just stopped caring and it got cheap.

Thankfully, I waited.

Not that Warsaw is a bad record, but it’s more “interesting” than “good” if you take my meaning.

It’s most interesting specifically from two different standpoints. The first is you often read interviews with ex-Joy Division members where they recount how they were unhappy with Martin Hannett’s famous productions. They’d considered themselves a punk band and weren’t happy with how he turned them into some kind of art project. But since Joy Division seemed so well suited to Hannett’s sound that I always wondered how much of a punk band they really were. It turns out they were  pretty punk—especially judged by demo sessions tacked on at the end of the disc—and they were also quite a good punk band. Though “Warsaw” might not have ever had the lasting impact “Joy Division” has, they were still a lot more interesting than many other British punk bands from the 1977-78 years.

Which leads us into the second interesting point which is that this record suggest almost any punk band from Manchester, under Martin Hannett’s direction in the studio, could have become “Joy Division”, or something very much like it.

Ian Curtis‘s cult of personality aside, in some ways Warsaw proves that Hannett was Joy Division as much as anyone else. He took a pretty great punk band and made them a phenomenal genre-defining band who would go on to have a lasting impact on alternative and indie rock for decades.

So for classic punk fans who always kind of liked Joy Divisions songs but was never keen on their chilly post-punk aesthetic, this album might prove to be quite enjoyable on its own merits. The production is still a little thin to be a true punk classic though.

For those interested in Joy Division, it’s probably more a curiosity for the completist than an essential album. It’s not a lost masterpiece.  A lot of these versions bear similarities in rawness to the band’s BBC sessions and higher-fidelity live recordings which is a good or a bad or an indifferent thing depending on your personal views of the band’s studio recordings. It’s always a treat to hear “Interzone” played with more rage-fueled garage-punk gusto than the 1979 Unknown Pleasures version.

Four of these tracks (the same four from the An Ideal For Living EP) showed up on the Heart and Soul boxset (and on the singles compilation, Substance before that), but I can’t be arsed to cross-reference if more were also included. I don’t believe so.

If you own everything else by Joy Division, including a number of live bootlegs, you probably can’t get around the fact you pretty much need to pick this up at some point. Especially now that it’s readily available and won’t hurt the bankbook too much. And it’s actually a lot better—and more enjoyable—than similar semi-apocryphal records by seminal bands.

It’s actually a shame these recordings weren’t included in the box set or as a third disc in the 2007 Unknown Pleasures re-issue. Either of those options would have been the perfect place for these recordings to be showcased, as opposed to a stand-alone package.

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2 comments

  1. Then again… I can’t believe how fresh and exciting Warsaw is today, and how much more I prefer and have to listen to it than anything else by Joy Division. It’s not a mediocre punk record, it doesn’t even sound like “punk” – though the rather crappy extra tracks (craptra?) thrown on later are very punk, with only At a Later Date worthy of sitting alongside the original songs on Warsaw.

    It’s not punk, it’s simply too tuneful, has too many great hooks, and the lyrics are too good. Its not stompy enough, shout enough, ignorant enough. It’s a a much rawer (rawrrr?) sound than London Calling but it’s NOT punk in the same way that great album was not punk. Forget dancing to architecture, just listen to Warsaw and compare to the craptra tacked on.

    I don’t know what to call it but to me it’s thrilling to listen to Warsaw and it blows the oars off anything else paddling about the same pond. As great as JD is at times, as unique, as moving, as beautiful, as chilling, they don’t often send that spleen-tingling thrill down my shorts that Warsaw does. I might come to JD later but it’s Warsaw that gets me hard. Warsaw is a hand job in the backyard at a party by a girl you just met who’s wearing a wig and clearly wasn’t born here. She makes you think, “Ouch, I wouldn’t do it that hard but, god damn, this girl is so crazy sexy I can’t stop and I don’t care if we get caught.”


    • Warsaw is most definitely punk. In the same way Talking Heads and Buzzcocks were punk. Punk in the original sense of the word (well, not the original prison slang sense, but the original pop culture sense). Original punk from this era was melodic and interesting and not all of it stompy or shouty or ignorant.



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