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Permanent CD review

Magazine: Vox (UK)

Publication date: July 1995

Reviewer: Stephen Dalton


 

STARTING ORDER

It's 1995 and Ian Curtis, pushing 40, appears in Hello! with his pouting starlet wife. Joy Division have just released their 12th studio album to universally poor reviews. Millions of loyal fans buy it anyway. Curtis is a sad parody of his younger self, hobnobbing with rock's international aristocracy and churning out increasingly banal lyrics about saving the planet. It's hard to imagine this was once the iconic poet laureate of urban brutalism as he bounds from stadium to stadium in a frilly shirt
Pure fantasy, of course, but who knows what
Ian Curtis would be doing now if he hadn't taken his life in the early hours of May 18, 1980? Just try applying the above scenario to Simple Minds  cultish contemporaries of Joy Division  and we're no longer in the realm of speculation. It's an age-old dilemma: What price the living Iggy against rock martyr Morrison? Or Eddie Vedder's endless whining versus Kurt's sacred corps? It's an uncomfortable thought, but this latest retrospective is bound to be hailed as the next installment in the Curtis death cult, a potent myth that will doubtless be reinforced by his widow's newly published memoirs
So
Permanent comes charged with self-made myth from the start. Whatever surviving band members claim, Joy Division exploited their gloomy mystique from day one. Were they ever photographed in colour? No, just grainy monochrome in grim cityscapes. What did Curtis sing about? Suffocating sickness (She's lost control), urban paranoia (Shadowplay), Kafka-esque alienation (Isolation), cruel fate (Heart and soul) and dark forces crushing all sensitivity: "There's no room for the weak..." [from Day of the lords]
Oh, and death. Joy Division songs were steeped in funereal imagery long before their singer's suicide. Over the past 15 years, nobody has spotted
Curtis working in a Macclesfield chip shop, either: he has stayed dead, because he already sounded like a corpse. That horror-filled zombie croak still sounds astonishing on landmark tunes like Dead souls and Transmission, a subterranean growl that owed as much to Boris Karloff as to Iggy Pop. Fittingly, Iggy's The Idiot was on Curtis's turntable the night he died
Joy Division were much more than a morbid personality cult. They were a genuine musical phenomenon, a unique way forward from punk that avoided either compromise or nostalgia. Far from being godfathers of sensitive poet-rock, they were the ear-bleeding hardcore noiseniks of their day: crunchy guitars, brutal basslines, thunderous tribal drums. So what hits home on
Permanent is now stark and economical there tracks still sound, their visceral impact undimmed by age. The late Martin Hannett's hugely influential production deserves special mention here, teasing out the spectral ambience without dulling the upfront metallic clatter, even on the gorgeous electronic soundwashes of Atmosphere  currently being used, obscenely enough, in a bank ad  and the sleek pop projectile Love will tear us apart, both clear precursors of New Order's synthetic futurescapes
So Joy Division made it to 1995 after all, if not quite to Hello!. London Records could hardly fail to assemble a blistering archive collection, although glaring omissions like
New dawn fades and Decades  easily two of the band's finest moments  niggle slightly. Still, Permanent is a more accessible retrospective than Factory's 1987 [1988] Substance, and anything that swells the Joy Division cult is to be welcomed, if only so new generations of fans can trace the lineage of U2, Nirvana, Therapy?, Moby, Smashing Pumpkins and all those US alternative types currently recording their own tribute covers album...
And yet, stick
Permanent on the stereo and it still sounds like nobody before or since. Impenetrable to criticism, impervious to the passage of time, chillingly beautiful: an impregnable carapace of mystery has solidified around Joy Division's legacy. Like the giant black monolith in 2001, it simply refuses to yield its secrets. Not now, not ever