TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 12 October 2007
The Joy Division catalogue is fast becoming a minefield. For a band that kept a stringent, straightforward release schedule during it's short life, the two albums and five singles have been endlessly milked to become three albums, six official live records, two Radio Session releases, an exhaustive box set, and two 'best of' compilations. With these latest re-releases, I become owner of these albums for the fourth time. (On top of this, the best Joy Division concert recording from Amsterdam, the first album recorded for RCA in 1978, as well as the official live films, remain frustratingly unavailable officially).
Make no mistake though. If ownership of music was commensurate to it's brilliance, then I'd have these records twenty times over. In one respect, you should see these reissues as a continuation of the handful of short-run, poorly selling Joy Division live albums issued in the late Nineties. The bonus discs that come with these packages, containing full recordings from the miniscule Joy Division concert archive, are welcome additions to the canon. Given the limitations of time, technology, and cashflow from a penniless Manchester band struggling on an indie label and regularly playing shows to a few hundred people without anything approaching a big hit, it's some wonder that anything remains in a usable form. As Peter Hook once said, they couldn't even record rehearsals and thus, the songs only existed at the time those four people were in the same room together. So little remains, and yet, so much.
Of the three albums, "Unknown Pleasures" is the icy cold sound of a frozen, sterile Manchester : a fierce contrast to the live sound showcased on the second disc, "Unknown Pleasures" is and was an utterly alien experience. At the time, the brief aftermath of punk was raging against everything and anything in a display of full-on inarticulate aggression - Joy Division were the first truly post-punk band, moving from this rage to a state of ambition and aspiration - not just to rage but also to seek a way out. The LP is a short, harsh, alienated essay on then-modern life : under the age of vinyl LP's, records were often just 36 minutes long, and "Unknown Pleasures" holds no flab or filler. Every song is a concise, but unhurried experience, and the rarified, dry, near academic atmosphere created by Martin Hannett shows clearly that Joy Division were, in the studio at least, Hannett's creation. Nowhere is this more noticable than in the sets accompanying concert CD, which shows Joy Division for the rough'n'ready rock act that they were - all rough edges, sharp corners, abrasive guitars, pounding drums of controlled, primed release, and Peter Hook's distinctive, unique bass melodies. The whole package is mastered over by Ian Curtis' troubled, but vital vocals : the language of rock has rarely been so rich. Most people add words to songs. Curtis added poetry, and used his words as an extra instrument instead of an afterthought - adding to the dense soundscape an intense and complex lyrical world with compelling vocals. This is not just musak : you can't just listen to this stuff whilst doing the washing up or shopping. This isn't music to be heard, but music to be listened to with intent.
Thankfully, disc 1 - the studio album - has been unencumbered with the addition of unnecessary, ugly extra tracks : the album is a complete statement in and of itself. The live disc is (mostly) a repackage of material from 1997's "Heart And Soul" box set, capturing a rough recording of the group performing at Manchester's Factory : an abrasive rock band powering loosely through, and extrapolating from, the bulk of their then new LP with a theraputic aggression. If you don't have "Heart And Soul", this isn't a bad purchase (and good value at the price), but is strictly rather unnecessary.