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Thursday, November 1, 2007

CD Review: Joy Division -- Expanded Reissues

Posted By on Thu, Nov 1, 2007 at 8:54 AM


Joy Division

Unknown Pleasures, Closer, Still, Control Original Motion Picture Sound Track

Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis has waited almost 30 years to become a star of stage and screen, so he's not going to let a little thing like being dead interfere with his Moment. And with Rhino's expanded reissues of the dour Manchester quartet's three albums — three different concerts (and one sound check) are tacked onto bonus discs — plus noted rock videographer Anton Corbijn's new Curtis biopic Control (which opens in Houston November 2), Joy Division's Moment has officially arrived.

Almost three decades after Curtis's May 1980 suicide — days before the band was to leave on its first American tour — they're arguably bigger than ever. Though Joy Division's influence registered almost immediately in the music of bands like U2, Echo & the Bunnymen and fellow Mancs the Smiths, today it's just as easy to detect in leading indie-rockers like Low, Interpol and the National. And, indeed, Vegas superstars the Killers, who put their Springsteen fetish on hold long enough to contribute a faithful cover of "Shadowplay" to the Control sound track.

No decent music library is complete without copies of at least 1979's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer — 1981's posthumous Still is a hit-and-miss collection of odds and ends — but Control is probably a better introduction to Joy Division's world than either one. Besides cornerstone songs "Dead Souls," "Transmission" (performed by the cast), "Atmosphere" and, of course, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" — originally only released as a 7" single — it includes music from contemporaries like the Buzzcocks and Joy Division's own key influences: the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On," Iggy Pop's "Sister Midnight," Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" and prime David Bowie/Brian Eno Berlin weirdness on "Warzawa." From there, it's easy to trace the development of Joy Division's airlessly bleak sound and Curtis's atonal but hypnotic charisma.

Musicianship was never their strong suit — their sloppiness, especially live, was as much a byproduct of technical ineptitude as any lingering debt to punk rock — but the skeletal arrangements and meandering tempos allowed Curtis to give his epilepsy-driven inner demons free reign, resulting in some of the most compelling, chilling and oddly exhilarating music of its time. In our time, conversely, Joy Division have finally been acknowledged as the rock stars they were, and treated as such. As part of this reissue avalanche, Rhino is also releasing ringtones of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Transmission," so wherever Ian Curtis may be, it's a pretty safe bet he's glad he's not around for that. -- Chris Gray

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