Essential New Music: Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures,” “Closer,” “Still” And “Substance”

JoyDivision

Thirty-five years on from “Love Will Tear Us Apart”—Joy Division’s magnum opus during a short career that was essentially a human highlight reel of concepts that would go on to form the backbone of what we now shorthand as “post-punk”—the band remains a mythical unicorn, a Mancunian magic act that briefly appeared on our collective horizon, sprinkled dark genius all over the yard, and then disappeared, morphing into a more commercial entity (New Order) that would still challenge our ears, if not quite our convictions.

Honestly, I know very few music fans of a certain age who don’t already own some or even all of the band’s oeuvre; these re-releases of four nonetheless essential documents may only be speaking to a few completists or hardcore superfans at this point (who will find alternative mixes of “Love” or a randomly unearthed techno-oddity like “As You Said” worth owning anyway on an expanded Substance). But that doesn’t mean that Ian Curtis’ courageousness—his ego and conscience stripped bare for all to hear on classics such as “She’s Lost Control,” “Isolation” and “Transmission”—and his band’s inexplicably tuned-in and empathetic collaboration isn’t still a marvel, years after Curtis’ demise.

If I learned anything as a young person about what it means to be an outsider and still face the day—with flaws and human foibles bravely embroidered on the heart like a glow-in-the-dark badge—I learned it from Joy Division. The future of the rest of our musical lives began here.

—Corey duBrowa