JOY DIVISION – “Glass”/”Digital”

There are those — I’ve met some, sad but true — who believe Joy Division songs might be lovely if only they’d turned the guitars up a bit and the drums and vocals down, if they’d turned down the reverb. But most of all, they’d find them just that much more palatable if Ian Curtis could sing, you know, hit his notes more often, strained less to show the underside of his vocal chords when going low, croaked once or twice less, maybe sung a little softer, a little sweeter. In short, they’d prefer Joy Division to sound like all the sweetly faceless slowcore covers of their songs. It takes all types to make a world, but such types are, simply put, wrong. For they ignore that Joy Division’s advances came in the starkness of the sound, the frustrated buried grind of the guitars, the factory echos. And they ignore that Ian Curtis sang perfectly, that Joy Division’s unique vision demanded a unique voice, one that strained to struggle, to rage above it all or to send grim despatches from behind.

Here are two perfect early pieces where the minimalism of punk is taken to its logical conclusion. Riffs nearly become drones, live beats grind mercilessly, guitars try to fight back. Even the handclaps in “Glass” become severe rhythm. And yet it is all possessed by a strange energy. Ian Curtis delivers two of his most forceful performances, bellowing prophetically. When I listen now, I wonder whether, if punk announced the death of classic rock, this didn’t announce the death of rock, pointing towards a time where beats and drones seem more compelling than anything rocking the present.