Joy Division

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Joy Division

Heart & Soul (Rhino)

Goth has demonstrated such staying power that its practitioners are convinced they invented the post-punk marriage of rock and gloom. Joy Division fans know better. Both sprang from the burgeoning UK punk scene of the late Seventies, yet in 1977, a year before a black-clad Peter Murphy and his band Bauhaus first graced the stage, Ian Curtis' brooding lyrics were entrancing listeners, without any capes or mascara in sight. Crowds flocked to Joy Division shows partly because they were a powerhouse band with an exciting new sound, but mostly thanks to a morbid fascination with Curtis. His near spastic stage movements added to the menacing mood his words created, and his onstage attacks of epilepsy only made their reputation grow. Buoyed by two strong albums, bigger and bigger audiences began following the band down their path, onto which Curtis tacked a period; two days before their first U.S. tour was to begin, he hanged himself in his home with a clothesline. All this wouldn't mean much on its own, but Heart & Soul, a 4-CD set that collects virtually everything Joy Division recorded in their brief lifespan, exhibits a band whose reputation not only holds up well two decades down the road, but actually improves when heard in totality. The rare demos and live tracks included here display a side of Joy Division America never got to see. While Curtis fixated his lyrics on the melancholy side, they were literate and far removed from pure nihilism. Yet live, they had a manic energy that matched their punk counterparts. Hearing Curtis growl and spit "Painstaking devotion and love, surrendered to self-preservation, from others who care for themselves, a blindness that touches perfection, but hurts just like anything else" in the live version of "Isolation" turns its meaning on end. Likewise for "She's Lost Control," "Dead Souls," and a dozen other memorable songs. Viewed through this material, the line from the Sex Pistols, and for that matter, on through to Joy Division's upbeat dance successor, New Order, becomes much clearer. Behind Curtis was a rock band unlike any other. Bassist Peter Hook played melody on the high strings, a style he claims he developed because he couldn't hear the low notes over Bernard Albrecht's (aka Sumner's) guitar frenzy. Drummer Stephen Morris was a study in restraint, playing only what was needed (except for an unfortunate syndrum obsession), yet rocking hard. Of course, Heart & Soul is not for everyone. The band's gestalt is as bleak as their childhood streets of Manchester, and Curtis' monochromatic vocal style can grate, particularly on some demo and live misfires. But it's all here: "Transmission," "Love Will Tear Us Apart," the sad magnificence of Closer, the band's prophetically titled second album and undisputed peak. Joy Division shook up the UK as surely as the Pistols, and imparted a sense of melodrama in British rock bands that remains to this day. If only they'd all done it so well.

****

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