Joy Division Still Review

Compilation. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Beginners would be wise to start with their two proper studio albums.

Chris Jones 2007

When writing about Joy Division you enter the territory marked ‘sacred cows’. It’s the same box that contains Nirvana or Hendrix. So how do you approach a collection that has so much associated kudos, bereft of objective distance?

Luckily, unlike many other such supposed ‘classics’ Joy division remain wholly startling and unlike just about anything else that emerged on factory. How did they do this? Well, for starters this wasn’t a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band. It was a FIVE-piece. It’s long been accepted that without the perversely dictatorial hand of producer Martin Hannett these Salford lads would have remained another post-Bowie, post industrial bunch of angst-ridden young men. By harnessing their rawness with an obsessive’s use of the latest digital technology, Hannett worked the alchemical miracle that made Ian Curtis’ voice into a living embodiment of dislocation and alienation, while Stephen Morris’ drums became the rattling metronomic sound of post-war Europe spinning in its tomb.

As such Still comes as a partly frustrating compilation. Aimed at quickly curtailing the bootleg industry that always follows the death of a young icon, Factory Records collected a reasonable amount of outtakes and unfinished songs along with a recording of the last gig the band played before the singer’s death. Undoubtedly as compelling as they were live - with Curtis’s spastic dervish act making corporeal the bleak, intense muse that informed their work - the sound is thinned out and lacks Hannett’s fairy dust. Mind you, the singer’s comment about “Louie Louie” shows that for such a notoriously dour band they still had humour residing in their ranks.

The studio material fares better, with “Dead Souls” as crucial as anything on Unknown Pleasures or Closer. The same goes for the post-punk glory of “Glass”, containing the DNA of white R&B in its grooves. Other tracks like “Ice Age” sound less complete in their thrashy approach.

Of course this is all still a fair notch above most of the label’s other acts, and that includes New Order. Who can tell where they would have gone had Curtis lived? All that we have left is the sepulchral voice, the snatches of Ballardian exitentialism and the eery electronic undertow. It’s more than enough for most people. But beginners would be wise to start with their two proper studio albums.

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