I’ve written about Warsaw before, as well as the band that eventually evolved from them, Joy Division (though not the band that evolved from them, New Order). I love the sound of their early work as Warsaw, though they pretty much didn’t leave behind any legitimate output other than a few songs on a single. The An Ideal for Killing record I profiled previously was a hodge-podge of live and studio recordings, but almost all of pretty poor quality. So when I saw this release the other day at Jive Time Records I was hesitant – I already had one mildly crappy record. Would this be any different? Fortunately for me Jive Time has a solid listening station, and about 10 seconds into playing this I knew I was buying it.
I’m not sure how to properly describe this album. Is it a bootleg, unlicensed, unofficial, or what? I don’t know. It’s a high quality product though, that’s for sure. The sleeve is a very nice fold out poster, with one side completely taken up with a detailed history of the band and lyrics to the dozen songs included on the bright green record. The only “cheap” aspect of the whole thing is that the labels on the actual record are blank, so to figure out which side is which you need to look at the matrix etching in the runout groove. But that’s a pretty small price to pay for some excellent sound quality and fantastic music.
There’s a lot to like here from start to finish. Warsaw to me is very much like early punk meets the earliest moments of the NWoBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) – the punk aggression and sneering vocals are there, but pushed forward relentlessly by repetitive and powerful bass lines. It doesn’t all sound the same though – Warsaw keeps it fresh. “Leaders of Men” has a sort of funky new wavish vibe that is the only thing I’ve every heard that truly reminds me if the Icelandic band Þeyr. The song that follows it on side A, “They Walked in Line,” is one of my two favorites on the record and has that insistent pace that actually gets you agitated just sitting and listening to it. Probably the best song on the album is side B’s “Living in the Ice Age”, which is simply near-perfect early punk, quick and catchy.
All dressed in uniforms so fine,
They drank and killed to pass the time,
Wearing the shame of all their crimes,
With measured steps, they walked in line.
They walked in line.
— “Walked in Line”
Ian Curtis’ lyrics generally came from a dark place, one surely influenced by coming of age in 1970s England with its high unemployment and bleak outlook, a time when many young people went to school simply to have something to do and many of the rest lived on the dole. It was the environment that incubated punk and allowed it to burst forth out of society like the monster in the movie Alien chewing and clawing its way out of the crewman’s chest.
Down the dark streets, the houses looked the same.
Getting darker now, faces look the same.
And I walked round and round,
No stomach, torn apart,
Nail me to a train,
Had to think again,
Trying to find a clue, trying to find a way out!
What was it that drove Curtis to suicide? Was it his broken marriage, and the affair the contributed to its implosion? Was it a sense of hopelessness that came from his seemingly worsening epilepsy that made ever show a potential embarrassment? Was it his dark outlook on society as a whole? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does either. With his passing we lost one of the great lyricists at a terribly young age (23) and are left with a handful of great songs and a lot of “what ifs”.