The Austin Chronicle

Record Reviews

Reviewed by Michael Chamy, December 8, 2000, Music

Joy Division

The Complete BBC Recordings (Fuel 2000)

New Order

BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (Fuel 2000)

Despite what you've seen on VH1, there's not a more compelling tragedy in rock & roll than the Ian Curtis story. On May 18, 1980, on the eve of Joy Division's great commercial breakthrough, compounding relationship problems and ever-worsening bouts with epilepsy drove Curtis to hang himself. More directly than any other rock casualty, the tortured specter of Curtis haunts these live radio and television recordings (including a short radio interview) culled from the final 16 months of the band's existence. Presented in almost-strict chronological order, the music of Joy Division mirrors that of Curtis: ever more ominous, more gripping, more claustrophobic. The album progresses like a Greek tragedy, clearly and dramatically heading for a not-so-happy resolution. Peter Hook's stark bass lines and Stephen Morris' staccato beats form an icy storm cloud of tension, with Curtis' unsteady baritone bubbling just under the surface. The second, later version of "She's Lost Control," a track Curtis penned in response to the epilepsy, is absolutely jarring, after eight more months of seizures. The performance is Curtis at his most spastic and fiery, the song's sentiment captured by a primal yowl that lingers in the air as if foreshadowing his morbid demise. The musical eulogy "Perfect Kiss," delivered by Curtis' former bandmates in New Order, was one of the finest moments of a great pop band, in fine form on this Live in Concert document. But for all of New Order's genius in bringing brilliant, complex pop songs to the dance floor, the formula just doesn't translate as well to the live setting. Hook's melodic bass lines are still there, but Bernard Sumner's voice is one of subtle melody, not primal emotion like Curtis'. "Temptation" is one of the true gems of the Eighties, but the occasional missed note and off-key phrase nearly throws the train off the tracks. "Sister Ray" falls miles short of the Joy Division version on Still, with an exhilarating version of "Bizarre Love Triangle" offering one of the album's few highlights.

(Joy Division) ****

(New Order) **.5

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