Sound — 9
Joy Division were a 4-piece post-punk group led by depressed epileptic Ian Curtis, who would commit suicide in 1980, just days before the release of the band's second LP Closer and the rocketing of the single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" to the top of the charts. Backed by guitarist Bernard Sumner's textural guitar lines, Peter Hook's warm, melodic bass lines and Stephen Morris' robotic drumming, Curtis' songs of lost love and depression greatly influenced later post-punk and goth groups such as the Smiths and the Cure. Following Curtis' death, the band would change their name to New Order and head into synth-pop territory. Substance is a compilation of the band's singles and non-LP output, released in 1988 to complement New Order's singles compliation of the same name.
Lyrics — 10
Things start off with the leading two tracks from the An Ideal for Living EP, when the band was still performing under the name Warsaw. "Warsaw" is a typical punkish number, while "Leaders of Men" is scratchy, Gang of Four-inflected post-punk, held together by a fat riff. "Digital" marks the first use of Ian Curtis' signature baritone. The song itself is held together by a playful bass line that conveys an interesting counterpoint to Curtis' paranoid lyrics. Up next is "Transmission," one of Joy Division's most famous singles for good reason. The instrumental backing on this track is among JD's most simplistic (the main riff consists of just two heavily reverberated chords), but the song is unforgettable. Ian takes a rare optimistic stance in the song, and his call in the chorus to "Dance to the radio" is immortal. "She's Lost Control" makes an appearance here, though it's completely reworked from it's Unknown Pleasures incarnation. The lyrics itself tell Ian's story of an epileptic girl he once knew, though the song surely contains some strong autobiographical references. After the brief instrumental filler of "Incubation," we reach the trio of JD's most well-known singles. "Dead Souls" starts off with a two minute solo before launching into a proto-U2 rocker peppered with paranoid ranting that would never be found in Bono's lyrics. "Atmosphere" is one of the all-time great lost love songs (though not JD's greatest). Ian's coice is almost ridiculously deep here, but his sincere words backed with a lush synth atmosphere and hypnotic drum pattern make this song a classic. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is JD's most famous song. The lyrics are an autobiographical tale of Ian's failing relationship with wife Deborah and his conflict on how to move on. Sadly, Ian never did move on, and commited suicide shortly before this song gained JD commercial success. The second half of the album was added when this compilation was released on CD and contains all of JD's b-sides. The appendix starts off with the second half of An Ideal For Living - "No Love Lost" is a punk rock epic (taking a full 2 minutes to start) and the only track that points to a more intricate future for JD's music. "Failures" is a straight-ahead punk rocker not too far removed from the likes of Johnny Thunders or the Sex Pistols. The next few tracks take a cue from Krautrock with jarring guitar noise and thick bass lines making up the foundation of the songs. The "Love Will Tear Us Apart" b-side and final track "These Days" is probably the strongest b-side in this collection, another Curtis lament for the good old days.
Overall Impression — 9
Though the Heart and Soul box set collects all of these singles in remastered format along with JD's two studio albums and rarities, Substance is probably the safest place to start your JD collection. If you enjoy the tracks here do not hesitate to delve into their other studio efforts.