When Tony Wilson died last month, the thousands of heartfelt tributes cast in his direction were, in the main, because of one incredible band. Signing Joy Division to Factory Records was seen by the majority of music lovers as his greatest achievement – and listening to their two studio albums again, it’s not difficult to see why.
Joy Division’s reputation has grown with every year after their abrupt and tragic end in May 1980, when Curtis hanged himself in his Macclesfield home on the eve of the band’s first American tour. It’s a story told in full in the forthcoming Anton Corbijn biopic Control, an intoxicating mixture of musical triumph and personal tragedy. But it’s the music alone we’re here to talk about, as both studio albums (along with the posthumous compilation ‘Still’) are receiving timely reissues complete with extra CDs of live material.
The band’s debut ‘Unknown Pleasures’, originally released in 1979, is simply one of the best records ever made, and is still powerful enough to floor you 28 years on. With an almost dub-like, spacey atmosphere sculpted by studio genius Martin Hannett, the band’s sound – Peter Hook’s rumbling basslines, Barney Sumner’s eerie guitar shrieks and Steven Morris’ machine-like drumming – was almost the polar opposite of the punk music which had brought them together after a Sex Pistols show in 1976.
The album’s raw power is still gripping, most notably on the haunting ‘Day Of The Lords’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’, which Curtis, who was epileptic, wrote in sympathy after hearing that a girl he
knew with the same condition had died.
‘Closer’, released just months after his death in 1980, is an appropriate epitaph for Curtis. With personal problems and his medical condition causing him extreme pain both physically and mentally, the likes of clattering opener ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ and the harrowing ‘Decades’, which both refer to psychosis and mental breakdown, offer compelling evidence that this was a man at the end of his tether. Even the most upbeat moment is chilling – ‘Isolation’’s icy synths adding a sinister edge to what is essentially an electropop tune.
‘Closer’ almost touches the same heights as the band’s debut, but lacks an anthem – but then the contrary bastards did decide to release the peerless ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ as a stand-alone single instead, just because they could.
The remaining members regrouped after Curtis’ death and, as New Order, went on to change the alternative rock landscape again after investing in a sampler. But that’s another story entirely. The happy ending here is that, thanks to the astonishing, timeless, awe-inspiring music, Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson and Joy Division will all live forever.