written by Chris Familton
The story of Joy Division’s journey from post punk pioneers through the tragic suicide of frontman Ian Curtis and the subsequent and unexpected reincarnation as New Order is one that has been told many times over the decades. As far as legends go theirs is a classic tale of innocence, disaster and resurrection and though it has been romanticised to some extent through books, films and word of mouth it is a truly remarkable story.
TOTAL is yet another attempt at anthologising Joy Division and New Order though few have had the foresight to combine both bands in one document. The result is an album that intriguingly captures the evolution of five musicians while at the same time laying out the decline of their stock from a certain point around the end of the 80s. Joy Division have five tracks on the album while New Order contribute thirteen, an aspect of unbalance indeed. Most likely the compilers wanted a full career retrospective, sacrificing quality for a complete career arc.
Each of Joy Division’s tracks are absolute classics that define a time of disillusionment, post punk experimentation and the intellectual embrace of dark thoughts. Their incorporation of synth drums and cold, isolationist settings gives the songs an alien and glacial atmosphere with Curtis’ voice intoning deep and magnificently over the top. As important as Curtis’ voice is the bass playing of Peter Hook with his rhythmic approach that by its pure originality and melodic inventiveness supplanted the guitar as the dominant stringed instrument in the band. Love Will Tear Us Apart has become a definitive anthem but as important are the jerky nihilism of She’s Lost Control and the heavy, clouded mood of Atmosphere.
The transition into New Order and the addition of Gillian Gilbert on synths feels like new dawn, the emergence of the band, blinking into the sunlight of the 80s. Ceremony is a natural evolution from Joy Division but from Temptation on you can hear the band gaining confidence in their new direction with an increased optimism in the guitar work of Bernard Sumner and a rhythmic brightness to Stephen Morris’ drumming. New Order is arguably their greatest moment with its robotic drumming and the full embrace of the decade’s futuristic technology. It changed the way this writer listened to music as an eleven year old and introduced many to electronic music. Once New Order realised they had found themselves as a band they continued to write brilliant songs that married technology, traditional structures and mood. The Perfect Kiss is ebullient while still retaining its edge among its prog-tronic changes. Bizarre Love Triangle epitomises the pinnacles of 80s synth pop and compared to Joy Division it has a positively saccharine sweet glow.
The cracks began to appear around the Pet Shop Boys sounding True Faith and the lazy overkill of Fine Time. Then it was a descent into football theme songs and electro rock. The last gasp of Crystal showed signs there was still some magic but it proved to be too little too late as the turn of the century signposted the end of an era for a band(s) that had managed to stay contemporary and of the times for two decades. Listen to the first eleven tracks on TOTAL and you will experience a mastercraft of relentless inventiveness charting the brilliant evolution of a seminal band who went from amateurs to auteurs before our ears.
this review was first published on The Dwarf.