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Heart And Soul four CD-box review

Magazine: Melody Maker (UK)

Publication date: Saturday 6 December 1997

Reviewer: Martin James


 

HEART FOR ART'S SAKE

If you want some beauty in your life, here's one we heard earlier
THERE was a time when Joy Division were spoken of in the same kind of hushed tones as the Manics. Not least because of their music, a sublime jewel amid the grey of the post-punk wreckage where creativity struggled to pull away from the three chrod popsters. A sound which explored the collision between pathos and celebration and, like Mr Bradfield and pals, that nobody-understands-me/suicide-is-romantic ideology which obsesses a frightening number of us at a given point in our lives
For any posthumous Joy Division release, it's tempting to let the fact that lead singer
Ian Curtis hanged himself take precedence over a consideration of the music itself. With this box-set of just about everything to do with Joy Division including raincoats, fringes and kitchen sinks it's far too easy to afford it greatness by virtue (that virtue being the New Grave fave way to say goodbye). So, the question remains: just how good were Joy Division anyway? The answer isn't that simple. Or, then again, it is. When they were good, they were f***ing amazing; when they were bad, they were still out on their own somewhere
When they were good, put quite simply, was on the stuff that they chose to release. The albums
Unknown Pleasures and Closer, along with singles like Transmission, Atmosphere and, of course, Love Will Tear Us Apart  the one they still play at indie discos are as close to perfection as you're likely to hear on silver plastic. Released only a few months after the Manchester quartet had come together as a rather dodgy punk band called Warsaw, the difference between Unknown Pleasures and their earlier incarnation is simply breathtaking. Thanks to a stunning production from Martin Hannett, Joy Division slowed down the tempo, upped the atmosphere and invested in a beatbox. Indeed, in here you can hear the first stirrings of the British electronic funk movement which was to bare fruits as rave some eight years later
By the release of
Closer only a year later, the band had taken their trademark sense of despair to incredible depths on tracks like Decades, with its ghostly piano refrain, or Incubation, all stuttering rhythms aching with loss. After Curtis' death, the lyrics to these tracks were poured over for a sense of meaning, adding new depth to an already ocean-deep tome. An album which is perfect in every way, and still sounds as good today as when it was first released
The remaining material on offer in this box-set, however, exists as little more than oddities of interest to the fans. CD three contains 24 studio rarities and unreleased demos which, frankly, could have strayed in the vaults without anybody batting an earhole. That said, the rehearsal versions of
Ceremony and In a lonely place (which were to become the first singles for the post-Curtis line-up, now known as New Order) offer an interesting insight into the final days of the band
CD four, on the other hand, is where Joy Division can be heard at their most naked and raw. As a live offering, they were a curious mix of abstract guitar dynamics,
Peter Hook's low-slung bass and territying groove-based dynamics. But it was Curtis that was furthest away from his studio persona. Onstage he would dance like Popeye on speed, literally an epileptic caught in a strobe display. On this live CD, Joy Division are, true to reality, at once magical, frustrating, beautiful and ugly
At about a million years long (and, amazingly, recorded over only a 19 months period),
Heart And Soul may seem a bit too much to take. After all, if you've got the albums, who needs the rest? At the end of the day, this collection is a neat way of compiling the back catalogue for people who are obsessed with tidiness. Something which is kind of at odds witht the band themselves