28
Aug 02

Joy Division: An Ideal for Listening

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Joy Division: An Ideal for Listening: an overview of Joy Division by Chris Ott, which as is the way of these things doesn’t amount to much more than a retelling of the story and assertions of quality. That’s not meant to be critical – when a band means a huge amount to you, you do feel the urge to simply restate the facts, to testify if you like. The existence of Ott’s essay – and its measured, solemn tone (a particular single is not ‘flawless’ but “without flaw”, for instance) – makes more of a point than its words do.

It seems odd, though, that in the middle of the essay there’s an attack on Paul Morley, who – like Chris Ott, I expect – wrote about Ian Curtis and Joy Division because he had to. The essay waves its hands at the “volumes of humorless praise” Morley’s produced on the subject – actually he’s to my knowledge never written a book about Curtis, or Joy Division, or New Order. He’s written sleevenotes on occasion, and journalism, and while I’ve not seen many jokes in them he’s usually playful.

But ‘humorless’ is an odd criticism to throw at writing about Joy Division: they’re a hard band to deal with because whatever they were like as people the music is full of High Seriousness and critics tend to feel forced to reflect that. With “Atmosphere”, for instance, I find it hard to imagine liking the song without buying into the seriousness – surrendering to it, almost. Joy Division ask you to make a leap of faith -to believe that the echo-ed drums, the washes of keyboard, the German single title aren’t the Gothic kitsch they so obviously could be; that for the duration of this track at least they mean something. Ott’s Wall Of Sound comparison is telling, because this is exactly the same leap of faith Phil Spector and his singers wanted you to make, only now the subject isn’t romantic loneliness but loneliness in some huger, starker philosophical sense.

Morley’s write-up of “Atmosphere” in the Palatine box set booklet is my favourite single-track review by anyone ever, and also pre-empts Ott’s criticism and my comments – “The NME banned me from ever writing about this song. I remember thinking that it seemed like the whole world was telling me that I took it all too seriously. Funnily enough, I never thought I took it seriously at all, well, not seriously enough. I don’t think I’ll take this song, or anything else for that matter, really seriously.”. Morley also did write one book which touches on Ian Curtis, called Nothing – another of my favourite pieces of writing and one I’d unreservedly recommend to Chris Ott or anyone else. It’s about his father’s suicide and stings with the love, frustration, guilt and gradual return of feeling that people dealing with bereavement feel. People, incidentally, like New Order in the 1980s, which is why – counter to Ott’s last sentences – I think that band’s records are transcendent, whatever you take that word to mean.

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