I was talking about this with my pal Trent, a week or so ago, and saying how I wanted to write a blog post about the evolution of Joy Division into New Order following the suicide of Ian Curtis.
Both bands are great for their own reasons, but what’s really interesting, to me at least, is to look at the transition from JD to NO, from Curtis to Sumner, and how the mood and tone of the band changed, and also how the mood and tone of the band stayed the same.
The best song to look at to see this evolution, I think, is Ceremony.
It was one of the last Joy Division songs and one of the first New Order songs. Curtis wrote the lyrics and first recorded it and it was the first song that the reincarnated New Order did immediately after his death. Guitarist Bernard Sumner stepped up to sing and, purportedly, had to transcribe the lyrics from the audio of Curtis as they weren’t actually written down anywhere. I’m not sure if that’s true, but if it is, and if you stop to think about it, there’s something incredibly, hauntingly, horrifyingly beautiful about that. The first sounds moving forward for this collection of friends are initiated by the ghost of the recently departed Curtis. How his voice must’ve just hung in the air of that room.
Now if you’re not really a Joy Division fan, or not into this music, the best version for you to listen to is likely the New Order version from the 1987 album Substance. I’m not saying that this is the best version, its just the most sort of accessible one – although the 7″ version is a bit more punk and raw and that’s good too. The original Joy Division recording is very muffled and Curtis’ distinct and robotic drone can be a bit alienating if you haven’t warmed up to it.
Give these a listen back-to-back. The vocals are really bad in the first two but these are the only recordings of this song, so that’s all there’s ever going to be.
The second one here has some rather Transylvanian sounding spookiness.
The third is the first version after Curtis, with Sumner singing. But it’s still very much an emulation of a Joy Division song, one performed by the guys in the sound they’d always had.
The fourth one, from the 7″, is the version that you could suggest is the first, legit, New Order version. The tempo is faster, getting further away from that reverby punkish sound and into something more polished and studio-esque. There’s only a matter of months between these but the direction is there. This is also, I feel, where Sumner is singing more as himself and less as an Ian Curtis impersonator, although that it definitely still there, too. You hear a bit of both, which is why that version is the absolute coolest. It maintains the rawness and DIY feel of Joy Division, yet you start to get a little bit more melody and the more outgoing, vibrant, and more optimistic passion of Sumner and New Order. It’s my fave.
The final version, which was put on the 1987 album Substance, is where the transition is complete. Its important to note that while that last one appeared on an album six years later it was actually recorded in the same year as the 7″ – in 1981. In fact, all five of these were done within just over a year. And by a group of people in their early 20’s who had just lost their friend and leader.
Joy Division, 1980, from Heart and Soul
Joy Division, 1980, live, two weeks before Curtis’ death
New Order, March 1981
New Order, 1981, single 7″
New Order, 1987, Substance
This is why events unnerve me,
They find it all, a different story,
Notice whom for wheels are turning,
Turn again and turn towards this time,
All she ask’s the strength to hold me,
Then again the same old story,
World will travel, oh so quickly,
Travel first and lean towards this time.
Oh, I’ll break them down, no mercy shown,
Heaven knows, it’s got to be this time,
Watching her, these things she said,
The times she cried,
Too frail to wake this time.
Oh I’ll break them down, no mercy shown
Heaven knows, it’s got to be this time,
Avenues all lined with trees,
Picture me and then you start watching,
Watching forever, forever,
Watching love grow, forever,
Letting me know, forever.