Joy Division

Say! Am I nuts or is that guy singing off-key?
*special introductory paragraph!
*Unknown Pleasures
*Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979

I honestly am sorry that Ian Curtis developed severe epilepsy while simultaneously destroying his marriage, and I don't wish to insult his memory or mock his tragic suicide. The fact remains, however, that he is one of the worst fucking singers I've ever heard in my life. Seriously, Joy Division was a really good band but in spite of Ian's vocals, not because of them. He began his career as an unexceptional but perfectly passable tenor, but then for some reason (psychological or physical? I've no idea) switched to baritone, which played The Devil's Hell on his ability to hit the correct notes. The result is a bunch of interesting and intelligent music topped by a tone-deaf little boy trying to be Nick Cave of The Bad Seeds.

I ask that you ignore outmoded theories of 'absolute' and 'relative' chronology in respect to that last statement.

Warsaw - Movie Play Gold 1994
Rating = 6

Before settling on the Nazi-inspired name Joy Division, the cheeky lads from Manchester went by the Nazi-inspired name Warsaw. They recorded this self-titled debut in 1978 but said "Hay this stinks" and decided not to release it (though they did later re-record nearly all the songs for various EPs, singles and their actual debut album). All the better too I suppose, as its bizarre mixture of straight punk rock and post-punk dance music would likely have alienated both potential audiences equally. Imagine the Sex Pistols and early Public Image Ltd. as the same band working on the same album. Hilarious, right!? Now imagine a giant bunny rabbit hurling 500-lb eggs at little kids as hard as he can. If Jesus had his way, this would happen every April.

Ian "McKaye" Curtis uses his actual singing voice on most of this record, and is revealed as a nondescript English vocalist - fine for punk rock, but not much more. Guitarist Bernard "Goetz" Sumner displays a wide variety of playing styles, alternating between raw blistering Damned-esque blasts and tight muted Wire-y chugging in the punk tracks, and experimenting with delicate arpeggio/note melodies and brash minimalism in the dance-oriented material. Bassist Peter "Captain" Hook gets a few opportunities to play lead instrument here (as he often would in Joy Division proper), but certainly not in the punk songs. And drummer Stephen "Jim" Morris"son" herein displays a knack for the trademark Ramones drumbeat that he sadly would never again have occasion to use.

(Except for his 14 years as "Stevie Ramone," but that era's been swept under the rug by liars and revisionists.)

If you're a big fan of laughter gags and have been listening to Joy Division, hell, for years, then you MUST check out "The Drawback," a hilariously peppy goodtime punk rocker that both shows a rare lighter side of the band and stinks. The rest of the album thankfully sticks to the melancholy and bitter moods at which they excel, but the songwriting is still too rudimentary to fully impress. In short, they just weren't a very good punk rock band. The title track is an absolute killer (apparently about Nazi Rudolf Hess!), but otherwise their punkers don't come close to the anthemic hookiness of the bands they're imitating. Their creative strengths lay elsewhere -- in the scrapy bass-focused funk of "Leaders Of Men," the emotional dark-rock rush of "Novelty," the warm expansive dance-rock of "Transmission," the beat-driven disco cool of "No Love Lost" (well, the first half anyway - before it turns into "The Changeling"). With such advanced post-punk musical ideas already in their repertoire, it's strange that they bothered to record the give-or-take punk stuff at all. Presumably it was just early material they'd yet to replace?

Two other songs I must reference by title: "As You Said" is a worthless 1980 electronic instrumental thrown onto the end of this release for no good reason, and "Interzone" sounds like Judas Priest! HA! You'd think that a 'jig-jig-jig' punk-metal fist-anthem like this would have been dumped in the river immediately upon recording, but instead it wound up as one of only two Warsaw tracks to be re-recorded for Unknown Pleasures! See what happens when metal bands hire gay people? They can't HELP but influence the British!

(Yes, I know Judas Priest were also British; I'm just poking light fun at the fey NME-approved British hipster rock scene)

(which could never hold a candle to the hardcore aggro assault of America's indie rock scene - fuckin' MODEST MOUSE UP YOUR ASS!!!!!)

Now since I'm depressed, here are some jokes:

What did the chimpanzee say to the banana?
Fuck you, banana

Why did the corpse spend seven hours in a K-Mart bathroom before being escorted away by police?
When his relatives told him it was time for the funeral, he thought they said "urinal."

Why did Knut the Polar Bear grow depressed and mentally unbalanced as he got older and less cute?
Because he couldn't "bear" the thought of not having an adoring crowd anymore!

Knock knock!
Who's there?
Roger Clemens.
Roger Clemens who?
No, you're misremembering. I said Debbie Clemens.

Man A: "Did you hear that Roger Waters was invited to perform on MTV Unplugged?
Man B: "Wow, that must have been great! Did you watch it?"
Man A: "No, it never aired. Apparently the term 'unplugged' also refers to household appliances, and without them his entire solo discography is four minutes long."

What did Sheryl Crow "Soak Up" in her popular 2002 hit single?
Urine. She's incontinent.

Yes, Mark Prindle truly does put the "JOY" back in "JOY Division"!

(and the "HA" back in "suicide by HAnging")!

Reader Comments
I spent the last half an hour laughing at that last line. Well done, Prindle. Well done.

Add your thoughts?

Unknown Pleasures - Qwest 1979
Rating = 8

As a critical theorist in the field of mathematics, I assure you that there is no "joy" in "division." Now here's 500 footnotes.

Hi, I'm Joey Division. Lots of people make fun of me because of my name, but I've got a big surprise for them. I just went down to the Name Change Building and changed my name! So fuck you world -- say hello to Newt Order!

Hi, I'm leading optometrist Bob Screw. You know, you often hear people complaining about their poor peripheral vision or their sagging nighttime vision or this and that, but one thing people have been far too negligent about is their joydi vision. Come in for a test today! And don't start in on the "it doesn't exist" crap; I'm a doctor.

wingedfeetxc on 2/17/08, 8:48 PM: "I never understood why...outside of his prolificness....Prindle is so revered respected. His reviews are terrible. Completely retched. Enough of gonzo music reviews please. I don't give a shit what you did saturday night."

Saturday night I watched a boring old British movie called Bizarre, and went to Arriba Arriba Mexican Restaurant for dinner. While there, I got angry with the waitress for not refilling our water pitcher, so I picked it up and shook it around in the air like an asshole until somebody finally came by and refilled it. After dinner I came home, shoved a toothbrush down my throat a few times, and went to sleep.

Unknown Pleasures is the first of Joy Division's two official studio albums. Sfuck off overproduced by Martin Hannett, the record sounds cold, unnatural, arty and airy, with offputting reverb on the drums and tons of empty space in the mix. This approach would have clashed madly with the original Warsaw material, but these compositions find the band abandoning its punk and electro-dance origins for a slower, quieter and more atmospheric sound that would soon influence an entire subgenre of "goth" artists. The Cure, for example, were very clearly influenced by bass-driven mopers like "New Dawn Fades." Remember how much The Cure changed between their 1979 debut and its 1980 follow-up? I bet you a HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS that this album is why. Then, if proven wrong, I refuse to pay.

On the instrumental tip, Stephen's drumming is much less propulsive than before and Peter's bass has become the lead melodic instrument, allowing Bernard to focus on providing appropriate guitar counterpoint to the songs' main hooks. He does so in a number of ways, but most notably with high-pitched heavily-reverbed chimey washes that sound like prime My Bloody Valentine ten years early (check out the carpet of ambience he lays behind the otherwise regrettable, forgettable "Candidate" - that is TOTALLY Kevin Shields!). 'Zanother wilde touch is the further exploration of today's top synthesizer instruments, which in various tracks provide whooshy noises, stereophonic sci-fi bleeples, funny 'boop-boop!' percussionbeats, ambient humming drones, and even, in one song, a melody! The electronics are just a minor addendum to the guitar/bass/drum dynamics though; there's no "Love Will Tear Us Apart" synth-pop on here.

On the Ian Curtis tip, the lyrics are extremely personal and obscure (though "She's Lost Control" is clearly about his epilepsy) and, unsurprisingly, the vocals are so bad it's hilarious. You hear that, Ian??? So bad IT'S HILARIOUS! YOU HEAR ME???

I hope not because that would be life after death and the last thing I need is ghosts looking at me in the shower all the time, laughing at my penis.

Warsaw re-runs "Shadowplay" and "Interzone" still sound great, though their punky tempos and Judas Priest stutter-guitars mark them as earlier compositions. I'd also like to point out that the three anxious chords of "Wilderness" would make a great punk song so what's up with the choppy midtempo, Stephen? Furthermore, I call your attention to the excellent, disturbing "She's Lost Control," whose guitar line is lower and bassier than its bass line! Finally, I'd like to express my opinion that this LP is full of excellent and near-excellent songs, marred only slightly by the minimalist demo-sounding embarrassment "Candidate" and far-too-long mood piece "I Remember Nothing."

And it's not ALL slow; it's just that the overall feel is heavily affected by slug-paced melancholic dirges "Day Of The Lords," "Candidate," "New Dawn Fades" and "I Remember Nothing" -- particularly since three of these are among the first five songs on the record!

I give it an 8. And if it weren't for Ian's constantly off-key baritone.... well, I'd still give it an 8. A slightly HIGHER one though!

Speaking of 'a slightly HIGHER one,' I'm vacationing in Amsterdam in a few months! Get out the marijuana brownies!!!

And remove all the marijuana if possible; I just want the brownies.

Reader Comments
Cool you reviewed Joy Division! I agree with you. This record starts cool but then it disappoints. Irritating production and too many slow songs spoil the experience of an otherwise fine debut. I like the dark cryptic off-tune (yes they are) vocals of Ian Curtis. I guess he just wasn't the studio type of singer and the main reason for his popularity may be his energetic life performances. I don't know. I haven't been there. But you can feel what he tried to create here and with a lot of fantasy you get it. Maybe you just need to hear it LOUD!

Did you watch the film? It's good and everybody will hate me for this, but boy is the band in the film better. They took everything about Joy Division that is great (VERY catchy bass lines, cool drumming, fine guitar noises and a powerful atmosphere) and stripped the nonsense. I don't recoomend buying this, it's too eighties (REVERB! REVERB!). I haven't heard all of their material but I hope to find some demo stuff or live recording that's more raw and closer to the actual feeling of the songs.
this is going to sound cliche but, as a relatively young guy only discovering Joy Division about half a year ago, this record and all their music is quite a revelation. maybe I have too much of a tin ear to hear the out of tune vocals, I think they sound awesome.

weather it's hearing "love will tear us apart" at gay 80s night, watching the scene in 24 Hour Party People where they play "digital" or jamming unknown pleasures over and over again in my car, this band has yet to lose their freshness. also I believe that Martin Hannett claimed that Joy Division had no clue what to do in the studio and that's why he could make their album so spacey and reverby. apparently they were disappointed as the album didn't reflect their more aggressive live sound.
Hi Mark,

I wasn't expecting a Joy Division page to be actually put up any time soon, not after about a year of knowing your site, so I just figured that you just don't like them or don't have their discography, hence why there is no page. But you don't like The Smashing Pumpkins either but they're here so whatever...

My first real experience with Joy Division happened around July in 2007 after wanting to hear them for a long time and hearing them refered to as some big awesome unbelievable influential band that The Cure digs.

i don't really mind Ian's vocals, but I don't particularly like them either (as I would like Nick Cave's or Tom Waits's and so on). Good lyricist tho. And they give a weird alienated quality to the music.

..which is pretty unconventional for its time and that's great, Public Image may have done it sooner but they just sound weird and angry (great band still) while this stuff is way more delicate. And I don't see any "punk energy" here, by god, it all sounds completely exhausted and depressed (not pissed off or cheery like a punk album would). Or maybe they weren't supposed to be this way? Should the record have been mixed more aggresively like the comment above me stated? Maybe, but I like it as it is. Evenif I listen to their early punk stuff, it sounds to me as if they don't fit into the style. The tempos all sound slowed down and it all sounds really mechanic.

I agree that most of the songs are either excellent or very good, only difference is that I like Candidate. The melody's catchy. Besides the amazing depressing songs I'm especially excited by the dark rocker Interzone, shit is that a cool song!

Closer may show musical growth but I like this one better, it just strikes me as a more complete and coherent offering.
Funny. I agree entirely with your introduction to this band--they were great, but Ian was NOT much of a singer, more of a poet and philosopher in serious need of Prozac.

But I proFOUNDly disagree with these two ratings--and in a very schizoid way at that. On the one hand, I don't like this album much at all. It's like the Talking Heads with all the color, joy, and complexity removed. And what's with the damned reverb? This is supposed to be "depressing," not "trippy, whoa, man" and so forth!! Eh, maybe I'm taking the album cover too much at its word. Seriously, if half of the music inside weren't so lackluster, I'd be all like, "Dude, the album cover is RIGHT." Then I would probably toke once more.

But that would be an alternate universe, and the Joy Divisions are, like, SO not on THAT magic carpet ride. They are REAL, man. They know how THA STREETZ iz. Speaking of which, I like the Wu-Tang Clan's debut quite a bit, but it seems like their creative juices went to the bathroom and took a shit on the last two songs. Oh well. Still a good El-P from the Big Apple (pun intended).

Now back to tha Warsaw Cru. "Disorder," "Insight," "New Dawn Fades," and "I Remember Nothing" are great songs. Everything else is either off-key, or boring, or un-catchy, or all of the above. Also, Ian Curtis sounds rather hilarious when he tries to shout, yell, or belt like the punk he wants to be. Kind of like a nerd in a college band trying to be "bad-ass". (*puts hands in pockets, whistles nonchalantly*)

But on the other hand. . .

I can't help shake the feeling that the reason why Joy Division is so popular these days is because Ian Curtis killed himself right before they were about to get big. I like them but I prefer New Order.

Anyway, though there are some worthy songs on here, the whole atmosphere gets annoying after a while, and for the most part the songs sound exactly the same. Only "Shadowplay" really sticks out for me. "Disorder" and "New Dawn Fades" are pretty cool too. All the songs are good (except "I Remember Nothing"), but it's still pretty monotonous.

Add your thoughts?

Closer - Qwest 1980
Rating = 8

Over the years, many a soul has informed me that this is "the most depressing album ever," so I expected to bawl my tears off (or at least tear my bawls off) but nothing of the sort occurred. This isn't a depressing album! Aside from 2 or 3 songs, it doesn't even TRY to be! Here are my three theories for why it has developed such a reputation:

(1) It ends with two particularly depressing songs, perhaps leaving one with the false impression that the entire album fits this mold
(2) In light of Ian Stuart's suicide, some of the lyrics can definitely be taken as evidence of a tortured young mind
(3) Not enough people have heard the Swans or Neurosis

So forget what you've heard, if you have in fact heard it. Closer is really just another solid, diverse and highly influential Joy Division release. Killing Joke, for example, were very clearly influenced by the tribal beats and trebly reverbed washes of bendy, screwy chorus-pedal guitar noise that drive "Atrocity Exhibition" and "Passover." Remember how much Killing Joke changed between their 1980 debut and its 1981 follow-up? I bet you a HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS that this album is why. Then, if proven wrong, I give you an old TV Guide that I insist is worth a hundred thousand dollars.

But yes, DIVERSE. The record's diversity is a large part of the reason that it doesn't come across as 'depressing'. There's no monolithic, all-encompassing sense of hopelessness like with The Cure's Pornography or Neurosis' Entire Discography. Instead, Closer manipulates our moods and heart rates with rotating doses of tribal noise, cool dark anxiety rock, Kraftwerky synth-pop and even octave-bouncing disco before dragging our dicks in the dirt with its two closing dirges (sorrowful piano-based "The Eternal" and drab dated keyboard morosity "Decades").

Unfortunately, Ian is still only capable of hitting about one correct note out of five (how in CHRIST'S ASS did this vocal take of "Heart And Soul" make it onto an actual released studio album!?), giving the entire work an unfortunate air of amateurishness. Actually, let me pre-defend myself from suggestions that I favor vocal precision over emotion by stressing that (a) I like Mark E. Smith, for Christ's sake. How much more 'vocally unprecise' can you get?, and (b) Ian sounds great when he gets excited and starts shouting his lyrics ("DAY IN! DAY OUT!," more on this later), but the majority of his performances consist of him calmly, dully trying to sing simple, repetitive melodies in a gothic baritone as his voice wavers and goes flat every couple of seconds.

Obviously your reaction to his vocal shortcomings may contrast violently with mine. For example, though my wife joins me in laughing at his more obviously tone-deaf moments, she hastens to add, "I like it! It just sounds like he's too depressed to sing right." Heck, one time I lent Ween's legendary The Mollusk to a musician co-worker of mine, and he returned it with the dismissive comment that "it's all out of tune!" People will react to stimuli in accordance with their own personal histories, feelings and preferences. So don't get all bent out of shape if you worship Ian Stuart and I call him 'William Hung for the self-pitying,' because it doesn't mean anything.

(Except that he sucks)

He was a good lyricist though, particularly for one so young. Check out "Atrocity Exhibition":

The silence when doors open wide
Where people could pay to see inside
For entertainment they watch his body twist
Behind his eyes he says I still exist
This is the way, step inside

In arenas he kills for a prize
Wins a minute to add to his life
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more
Pray to God make it quick - watch him fall
This is the way, step inside

You'll see the horrors of a far-away place
Meet the architects of law face to face
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen
And all the ones who tried hard to succeed
This is the way, step inside

And I picked on the whims of a thousand more
Still pursuing the path that's been buried
For years of dead woods and jungles and cities on fire,
can't replace or relate,
can't release or repair take my hand,
and I'll show you what was - it will be.

There! See how he combined stark, nightmarish imagery with carnival barker entreaties to indict an amoral society bent on ever-greater thrills regardless of their human consequences? Masterful! Here's another good one - "Heart & Soul":

Heart and soul, I fell in love with you
Heart and soul, the way a fool would do,
Because you held me tight
And stole a kiss in the night

Heart and soul, I begged to be adored
Lost control, and tumbled overboard,
That magic night we kissed
There in the moon mist

Oh! but your lips were thrilling, much too thrilling
Never before were mine so strangely willing
But now I see, what one embrace can do
Look at me, it's got me loving you
That little kiss you stole
Held all my heart and soul

There! See how he combingskl;pppppppp

Reader Comments
Hey Mark, did you mean Ian Curtis when you said "Ian Stuart's suicide," huh? Were you mixing up your dead Nazi enthusiasts or is this just another moment of spot-on hilarity I am missing because of my fetal alcohol syndrome and low birth weight? Also I had a brilliant idea! You know how on VH1 they always have those shows where dicks you've never heard or barely heard of or whatever sit around talking about the 100 Greatest Whatever songs or the 80's or whatever? YOU SHOULD BE ONE OF THOSE GUYS!! You could be there with Michael Ian Black and that music critic that reminds me of Weird Al and Weird Al and it would be awesome. Call them or something.
Cool page Mark.

I had to have a wee chuckle at your comments about this album not being very depressing when you compare it to Swans and Neurosis. People always told me this was slit-your-wrists stuff, so I kept giving it a miss and yet decided to get filled to the gills with everything by both Swans and Neurosis. You carry a large part of the responsibility for that actually, I'm pretty sure I found out about both of them from your site. Two of the greatest bands ever though as far as I'm concerned, if like me you think The End of Silence is great, but you want something a bit more extreme in it's existential angst...I guess.

I did finally listen to this and I thought it was pretty cool, it didn't have a massive impact on me, but I guess like you say it does have a very sterile production. I guess I should listen to it some more them being an influence on Killing Joke and Swans and all.

Speaking of people who influenced Killing Joke I used to think that there was something of early Adam and the Ants to some Killing Joke stuff-all that tribal drumming like on 'Kings of the Wild Frontier,' Well I watched an interview with Jaz and what do you know he says that Adam and the Ants were a big influence! HA HA check me out!

Another thing while your mentioning The Cure and Neurosis in the same review, I had all my music on random play and this tune came on with this kind of seasick, rolling, ominous, to and fro-ing and I thought Oh year this'll be 'Through Silver In Blood' by Neurosis, but whadayouknow it was 'Pornography' by the Cure! you ever notice the similarity between the two? (Obviously before the vocals or pound your face Neurosis drumming kicks in? How often have the Cure been mistaken for Neurosis I wonder?
while i have great respect for prindle's habits of mental independence and 'calling it like he sees it', this ian-curtis-was-a-crappy-singer theme is, in my opinion, a misunderstanding of joy division. yes his baritone is wrecked and weird and his american accent close to parody, but the boy was CHANNELING. what was he channeling? he was channeling jim morrison, iggy pop, forty years of european darkness and his own proto-nazi demonic notself. and was the channeling elegant or consistent? no indeed. it was a very uncomfortable business. watch live clips and see the skinny young man almost evacuated by the big alien voice. but he had to do it!
. . . the next album is MUCH better, to the point I want to rewrite every nasty thing I said about the debut, true or no.

For one thing, Curtis doesn't make a single attempt to yell. He just SINGS the melodies, and thank God for it. I have to disagree with your assessment of his vocals on this particular album--he can't hit the notes dead-on, true, but never ever does he sound unintentionally hilarious, unlike his performance on Best Debut Album Cover Ever. And the vocal melodies are just superb--unlike Unknown Pleasures, where the basslines were probably supposed to carry the tunes.

Perfect example--"Colony," where Curtis raises his voice not a jot--and yet brings the intensity of the song to a point far above what it would be with the stereotypical punk shout. That's subtlety, I tell you.

And every other tune, no matter what genre it's in, does the same thing. "Heart and Soul"--most unobtrusively ominous chorus on the album. "Atrocity Exhibition"--horror, desperation, and torture conveyed through melody, arrangement and repetition alone. "Twenty-Four Hours"--perhaps the only one-chord tune of 1980 saved through its vocal delivery alone--and without practically any vocal volume at that.

Ah, but you say it's not a depressing album? That it doesn't try, that the diversity takes away from it? Hm. Interesting point of view--I actually think the diversity heightens the hammer-blow of the last two songs. This isn't an album meant to convey just depression itself--it's meant to show us the path TO depression as well. You could say the songs map out the "downward spiral" (in the words of Nine Inch Nails) from start to finish, with each song representing, in order a.) introduction to the horrors of the world, b.) realizing the obliviousness of the human race, c.) the beginning of hatred for everyday life, d.) loss of faith in God, e.) loss of faith in friends, f.) loss of faith in family and loved ones, g.) the final battle for continuation of life, h.) defeat in that battle and resigning oneself to death, and i.) final reflection, respectively. The diversity of moods on here sorta heightens the drama of the conclusion, a conclusion naturally made all the more real by Curtis's suicide. And (or "Nad," as I typed the first time), it doesn't hurt that he left after leaving us with one of the most eloquent sets of lyrics ever put to tape on a rock album. This record belongs in everyone's collection.

However, beware if you're depressed. "Twenty-Four Hours" alone might send you over a cliff. Maybe a two-foot-high cliff, but still--powerful stuff.

Oh yeah, and about the last two songs heightening the depression impression. Come to think of it, Unknown Pleasures would have sounded a lot better with that kind of sequencing. For no reason at all, here is my new song order for Unknown Pleasures*:

*(and we REALLY mean unknown--the stupid album sleeve has no words on it at all):

New Dawn Fades
She's Lost Control

Day of the Lords
I Remember Nothing

Damn you, producer guy~! This is all your fault~~!!!!

. . . !!

Good album.
Quite imposing actually. And very soothing. Ian's vocals are amazing in my opinion. Cheers!

Dan Brookes
I bought this when I was fifteen, which I think was probably the right kind of impressionistic age to be wowed by something as genuinely different (especially in the landscape of a 15-year old from Fucksville, UK) and - in my estimation - depressing as this record. With the baggage of knowing about the band and their mythology, along with the trials and heartaches that go into life in general, hearing this in late 20s onwards might trivialise the tone. It doesn't hold the same magic for me ten years on, but the songs are the draw rather than the emotional content. 'Decades', 'Means to an End' and 'Isolation' are all big hitters for me. Sure, other bands like Swans ARE more depressing, but it's not a contest. If anything, the moments of levity offered by the faster songs is more like life, rather than Michael Gira's doomish and relentless batterings (WHICH I LOVE!).
Funny that when I want to listen to Joy Division, Chrome ends up on the platter instead. Particularly Blood on the Moon or 3rd From the Sun. Plenty of the same kind of brood but with better players.

This is more of the same, but this album is more even. Nothing gets as good as "Shadowplay" or as bad as "I Remember Nothing". Guess my favorites here are "Heart and Soul", "Isolation" and "Atrocity Exhibition". Not a great album, but certainly not a bad one either. A little diversity would have helped...

Add your thoughts?

Substance - Qwest 1988
Rating = 8

This is a near god-esque 10-song collection of non-LP singles that traces the band's development from the tough punk rock of "Warsaw" through their synth-pop final single, the haunting and gorgeous "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Between these two highwater qualitymarks are.... why, even MORE highwaiter curleyborks!

--- The WONDERFUL Gang Of Four scratchy bitterness of "Leaders Of Men"!
--- The EXUBERANTLY bouncy and happy "Digital"! ("DAY IN! DAY OUT! DAY IN! DAY OUT!")
--- The HEART-WARMING hopeful optimistic "Transmission"! ("DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE TO THE RADIO!")
--- The POWERFUL troubled epileptic "She's Lost Control"!
--- The KILLER moody pre-U2 "Dead Souls"! ("THEY KEEP CALLING ME! THEY KEEP CALLING ME!")

How often do you find seven songs this different yet brilliant all on the same album? Okay, often. But how often do you find a Joy Division album with decent vocals on it?? I KNOW!!! NEFUCKINGVER!!!!

So let's talk about Ian's vocals, since we haven't done that yet on this page. The question that haunts me most through these long days and gentle nights is this: he had a perfectly fine punky tenor at the beginning of his career (listen to the first two songs on this album for proof). So why did he switch to a baritone? Did he suddenly wake up the morning of the Unknown Pleasures sessions with a tiny mustache and pajama full of emission?

The second question that hau(etc) is this: as evidenced in several tracks on this album, his baritone sounded great when he used it passionately (see the shouted portions of "Digital," "Autosuggestion" and "Transmission"). So why did he so often fail to do so? When I listen to Closer, I can almost see him in the studio pushing his chin down to his neck, jutting his lower jaw out and trying to croon lower than his body wishes him to. Is my wife right? Was he too depressed most of the time to try to sing right? Or was he simply trying and failing to be Frank Sinatra, Jr., Jr.?

Bottom line: You will find no better Ian Curtis vocals anywhere in the world than on this compilation. Not that they're ALL great (the hell is up with that dopey voice he uses at the beginning of "Transmission"?), but so many of them are that it's (FINALLY) easy to understand why most people don't make fun of him as much as I do.

As for the 8 instead of 10, blame that on a just-okay instrumental, a slow minimal thing that drags too much, and worst of all, the vomitous Breakfast Club sissy girl prom ballad "Atmosphere," which would be enough to drag The Beatles' White Album down to an 8. Thank you The Beatles, for passing on the opportunity to include Joy Division's "Atmosphere" on your self-titled 1968 double-album!

Here's a knot-knot joke for you:

Knot Knot!
Who's got a knot?
I do!
Get lost!

Knot-knot jokes were big in Korea for a while, but never really caught on over here for some reason.

Reader Comments

Ah, vindication.

Now go listen to something upbeat, fer chrissakes. You're starting to worry me.
First, I'd just like to point out that the CD version of Substance adds seven more singles-only tracks; some of them ("These days", "No love lost", "Novelty" for example) are essential.

Concerning "Atmosphere"... pleasant song, not great. I remember my tough post- punk friends in the early 80?s, they would dismiss anything that sounded smooth and melodic by most other bands - but this song was "beautiful". It was like the fact that Joy Division played it had given it some kind of quality seal: it was OK to enjoy smooth, melodic music only under certain circumstances. I found this funny back then and even more so nowadays.
I quite like "Atmosphere"... a bit like how Homer Simpson would sound doing a Joy Division cover. Almost optimistic, even.

Add your thoughts?

Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979 - NMC 2001
Rating = 7

Hi! I'm The Indigo Girls, here to speak to you about Massengill's new "Lesbian Douches." You know, when I've got a vadge full of saliva, nothing makes me f

Cheerio, mate! This 'ere's bleedin' Les Binks, former skinsman for bleedin' Judas Priest, innit? When I first 'urd that Joy Division put out an LP calling me a "douche" and misspelling my last name, why I nearly blurted "Cheerio, mate!" Then I fucked a little boy and m

Hi, I'm Reader Comment. Dave Holland was the Priest drummer who molested boys, not Les Binks.

Cheerio, mate! This 'ere's bleedin' Les Binks -- the only diff'rence 'tween me and Dave Holland is he got CAUGHT! Cheerio, mate!

Good evening, I'm John Houseman here to tell you about General Mills' new "Cheerio Mate." You know how sometimes you eat too fast and spill your cheerios all over your lap, and one of them gets stuck around your little needledick and you can't get it off and then you get a boner and die? Well, the "Cheerio Mate" videotapes that and posts it on the Internet.

Howdy pardners! This here's yer old buddy Cap'n Ian Curtis of the Good Ship Joy Division. What this album is, is nine live songs from December 18th, 1979, three from January 11th, 1980, and four from January 18th, 1980. Hence the obvious title Munchin' Some Rug On The Single Date Of December 18th, 1979.

Let's not kid ourselves here -- I can't sing. But how about these songs, huh? Five from Unknown Pleasures (including the oo-la-la goodness of "Disorder"!), four from Closer (including the va-va-voom awesomenesses that are "Atrocity Exhibition," "Passover" and "Twenty Four Hours"!), six singles you can find on Substance (including the "Holy tamale!"-styled unbeatableness of "Digital," "Autosuggestion," "Dead Souls" and "Atmosphere"!), and the b-side of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (a rockin' skrankin' buttkicker called "These Days"!). Wait a second, I can't be Ian Curtis -- he died!

Hi, I'm the very much alive Ian Stuart of Skrewdriver fame. And I'm the even more alive Ian Stewart of Rolling Stones infamy. We're homonyms! And both so very alive! Breathing, and whatnot.

This live material features great loud crisp drums, a nice melodic bass, trebly scraggly guitar, and the worst vocals ever recorded without Elvis Costello in the room. Recommended only if you're a huge Joy Division fan. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" sounds so awful, it's sickening. The keyboard is literally fourteen billion times louder than the rest of the band! (I measured with my sonogram)

With a decent vocalist, this collection of post-rock classics would easily rate a 17/10. As it is, I have to dock ten points for how out of tune Ian is the entire time. The ironic thing is that the act of hanging himself corrected his voicebox injury, and he sang like a bird with perfect pitch afterward. And sure maybe I should've said something to the undertaker, but he sounded so good!

He stopped singing a few minutes later.

Add your thoughts?

Still - Qwest 1981
Rating = 6

This is a double-album with one disc of (mostly) studio rarities and one disc of the band's final concert. Separately, disc one would receive a low 7 and disc two a low 6. Combined, they receive a mid-to-high 6. I know it seems incredible, but mathematically that's how it works out. Holy shit you're thinking. Holy shit how'd you do that, was it a magical power.

Hey, since all my readers are fratboys, here's a list of every euphemism I can think of for "female breast":

male testicles
That's all I can think of.

You know what Ian Curtis' problm is? All his vocals sound like guide vocals. Listen to "The Sound Of Music" on here, for example. How could he POSSIBLY have thought these vocals were good enough for a final mix? He doesn't come CLOSE to the right notes - and there's only like THREE of them! Jesus, I'd kill myself too if I sucked that fucking bad at my life's work.

(no insults from the peanut gallery thanks)

The annoying thing about this record is that a few of the rarities are absolute must-owns, but the rest you can either find elsewhere or don't need to. In particular, eerie guitar/dancey bass concoction "Exercise One," emotional guitar wash "The Only Mistake," and energetic bass-driven propulsers "Glass" and "Something Must Break" deserve placement on a much more respected release than lowly old Still. However, Substance owners don't need "Dead Souls," Warsaw owners don't need "Ice Age" and "They Walked In Line," and nobody in the universe needs a godawful cover of the godawful Velvet Underground song "Sister Godawful Ray."

And "The Kill" is an okay punk song, if you were waiting for me to comment on that one.

Now on to the live disc, recorded just a few days before Ian Curtis selfishly took his own life and left Frances Bean without a father. Hang in there, Althea Flynt!

The live set consists of two singles, 3 Unknown Pleasuress, 4 Closers, and a warm, optimistic song called "Ceremony" that apparently was later re-recorded as the first New Order single. The disc appears to be a soundboard recording, which does no justice at all to the material. The repetitive, electronic-sounding drums are too loud, and there is far too much empty, muted space where you know the live crowd was hearing loud booming bass and razor-sharp guitar. Yes, you can hear what all the instruments are doing, but this hardly helps when the poor recording conditions have reduced formerly pulse-pounding classics like "Transmission," "Digital" and "Passover" to emaciated skeletons of tepid flaccidery. Furthermore, Bernard makes a real bone-headed error in the middle of "Shadowplay" (he has two chords to pick from, and picks the wrong one!), and there's a strange percussion-related glitch midway through "Passover." I understand its historical importance, but surely this can't be the best possible Joy Division live recording in existence.

Following Ian's unfortunate death in an accidental noose wreck, the other three Joy Dividers changed their name to New Order and from what I'm told went more electronic. THE END

Reader Comments
Erm...I don't agree.

That's all.
Hi Mark! Great Joy Division reviews. I wonder if Ian Curtis's change in vocal style was inspired by Bauhaus, who did come roaring onto the scene around the time of Unknown Pleasures. Wikipedia lists their original active dates as 1978-1983, but it looks like they didn't release a demo until after Unknown Pleasures. Maybe THEY were inspired by Ian Curtis's change in vocal style???
I’ve been listening to Joy Division since the mid-Eighties, and you are the first person EVER to describe what I’ve always felt about Ian’s forced baritone. It never made any sense to me either! On “Heart and Soul”, my favorite JD song, he sings the verses agreeably, then butchers the chorus with a painfully tone deaf “One will bur-r-r-r-r-n”. Why did Martin Hannet allow that? He was so obsessive in his production every where else. Mark, thanks for having the balls to bring up this previously-unspoken objection to a Sacred Cow.
Still is an excrescence on the otherwiseJoy Division discography -- anything worth anything on it appears in much better company on the definitive near-complete box set Heart & Soul, where they thoughtfully omitted the atrocious version of Sister Ray, probably the worst in a verrry crowded field of bad VU covers.

But more important Mark, you left out several key euphemisms for breasts:
"sweater meat"
"dirty pillows" (courtesy of Carrie White's mom in the S. King flick "Carrie")
"golden bozos" (courtesy of Steve Martin hosting Saturday Night Live, late '80's)
Joy Division (or is it New Order?) are great because they named their best posthumous live album "Live at the Douchebag." If you don't believe me, look it up.

Never mind, here's the link. I'm telling you, "Bains Douche" is French or Belgian for Douchebag.
"I wonder if Ian Curtis's change in vocal style was inspired by Bauhaus, who did come roaring onto the scene around the time of Unknown Pleasures. Wikipedia lists their original active dates as 1978-1983, but it looks like they didn't release a demo until after Unknown Pleasures. Maybe THEY were inspired by Ian Curtis's change in vocal style???"

I've always associated the two bands for some reason, god only knows why. God?

David Sheahan
I was reading your provocative comments on Joy Division and the weakness of Curtis's vocals. The true believers will always disagree with that, even while it can't be really argued that his vocals weren't flat. They hit certain tones and then wandered south. But the interesting thing is, they were never sharp. Which always led me to believe that he could sing any way he liked, but wanted to give that bleak "I'm dead" effect, to make a point. Compare with someone like Morrissey of The Smiths, who really COULD NOT stay on a note, meandered around notes at the wrong time, and distracted you with it. It's very difficult to sing a "pretty" tune like Atmosphere and not sound super-amateurish. In any case, my take was always that Curtis was doing the very true-punk thing of not being "perfect". Another example of this might be Patti Smith, who sort of pioneered the "Fuck you, what note am i singing?" technique. Or of course, Iggy Pop's voice.

In all I think Curtis's tone wasn't accidental or invented. It had been around for years in different forms, and he was riffing and doing something very intentional and aware. I don't think you were being serious that Ian was imitating Nick Cave, who didn't start performing until four years after Joy Division, or nicknaming him "McKaye" who also came after. I think you were just being funny, even though it doesn't quite make sense. It would have been more accurate to call him out for being a dreary Iggy. My sense is that you don't want to blindly follow the dismal gothiness, and I applaud you for not getting dragged into it like all the other fools. It was nice to read a lighthearted review of this stuff, instead of the usual, "Let us worship Death with him" ass-kissing party.

Now this is more like it. I read some pretty bad reviews about this one, and I couldn't help but expect this to be a crappier version the first two, but to my pleasant surprise, I ended up liking this better than the both of them. Best songs are "Dead Souls" (Nine Inch Nails did a cool rendition of it in the movie "The Crow"), "Ice Age" (which has a great drum part) and "Walked in Line". The live tracks aren't anything worth mentioning on the other hand. I get that it was their last ever performance, but I'm sure there's a lot better live JD stuff out there. As much as I hate the VU's version of it, this version of "Sister Ray" was actually pretty good.

Add your thoughts?

Buy these albums and kill yourself thanks to no one but fucken me

Mark Prindle Ate Here