New Music Monday: Joy Division
Before we dig into this week’s column, a point of order: Joy Division is not strictly new music. The band formed in 1976 and dissolved in 1980 in the wake of lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. The three remaining members would go on to form New Order, one of the most critically-acclaimed bands of the 80s. Having said that, today we focus on Joy Division because Rhino recently reissued the band’s two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, on 180-gram vinyl. In the coming weeks Rhino will reissue the compilations Still and Substance, as well.
Unknown Pleasures came out originally came out in June of 1979. Though tracks like “Disorder,” “Insight,” and “She’s Lost Control” are classics today, the album did not sell well initially. It took the release of “Transmission,” a song not on the record, to spark sales. After the single’s release, Unknown Pleasure‘s sales increased, and the first pressing sold out.
Rhino chose this year to release the records in order to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the release of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Joy Division’s biggest hit. It’s an unfortunate twist of fate that the song, whose lyrics appear to document Ian Curtis’ failing marriage, was released a month before his death. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” comes the closest to a pop song that Joy Division ever recorded. Though its context is heartbreaking, the song is one of Joy Division’s best and has been included on a variety of lists of the Greatest Songs of All Time.
Like “Transmission,” “Love Will Tear Us Apart” does not actually appear on either Unknown Pleasures or Closer. The track was released as a single separately. Like it’s predecessor, Unknown Pleasures, Closer had no singles associated with. The record, however, reached #6 on the UK Albums Chart and held the #1 spot in Australia for four weeks.
Joy Division were among the first bands to take the anger and dissatisfaction of punk music and reforge those emotions into a new sound. The band’s live performances were loud and aggressive, but the sound they became known for is the uncanny echoing that runs through Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Given Ian Curtis’ untimely death it is not possible to know what direction Joy Division would have moved in the 1980s, but luckily the surviving members continued as New Order, and listeners do have their excellent catalogue to listen to.