Friday, October 24, 2014

Joy Division 4: Substance

By the mid-‘80s, as New Order’s status in what used to be called college alternative grew, the legend of Joy Division grew with it. Their three albums were reissued, and a year after a New Order compilation of the same name, Substance collected many of the singles, 12-inch and EP tracks (more so if you got the CD, or certain countries’ edition of the cassette, which most consumers in 1988 were buying anyway) that hadn’t made it to Still.
Singles, by their very nature, had to be more immediate to make an impact, so most of the tracks sampled here are more upbeat, direct and gloom-free compared to much of Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Even more striking are the earliest songs, recorded with punk fervor while the band was still learning their instruments and Ian Curtis had yet to develop the lower-register croon that would become his signature. Listen to “Warsaw” and “Leaders Of Men” and try to convince yourself it’s the same guy on “Transmission” and the later 12-inch version of “She’s Lost Control”. However, the key selling point for the album is “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, the iconic single released just weeks after Ian hung himself. With near-jangling guitars, a bass line matching the synth note for note, the high-hat work coming this close to collapsing and Ian’s vocal blending gloom with pop, it was and remains a hell of a way to say goodbye.
Substance certainly fills in the Joy Division story, but it doesn’t close the book. Shortly after a New Order best-of came out in the ‘90s, so did one for the original band. Permanent offers a mostly chronological mix of single and album tracks, bookended by two different mixes of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. For an even wider picture, the Heart And Soul box set presents “their entire studio output” on the first two discs, a third disc of further studio tracks, outtakes and BBC sessions, and a fourth disc sampling four live shows. (This pricey import was reissued, four years after its initial appearance, by Rhino.) Other compilations followed, one cramming songs from both bands onto one disc, others offering alternate mixes and more BBC material, but the choices remain the same as ever: 1) the two albums and the two compilations, 2) Permanent for the most succinct overview, or 3) the box set for virtually everything.

Joy Division Substance (1988)—
Joy Division Permanent (1995)—4
Joy Division Heart And Soul (1997)—

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