Joy Division - +- (Plus Minus): Singles 1978-80

by Mark Hammond Rating:10 Release Date:2010-12-06

The story of Joy Division is one of the most documented in rock history. Journalistic luminaries such as Mick Middles and Paul Morley have eulogised it with great articulacy in all manner of publications, calling upon fantastical metaphors and grand euphemisms to ensure that the lore lives in esteem along with the music. Tony Wilson, Factory Records impresario, was exalted in the wake of the gloriously entertaining 24 Hour Party People, starring Steve Coogan. Everything Wilson did post 1980 seemed like interstitial reflection on his finest signing (in blood). He popped up in endless talking head vignettes, most notably in Grant Gee's Joy Division of 2008. Like Morley and those inclined to discuss the Manchester music scene ad infinitum, Wilson was never one to curtail the dramatic in favour of more sober reflection. In the opening scenes of Joy Division he appears, deeply resolute and offers the salvo, "The other bands were on stage because they wanted to be rock stars. These four were on stage because they had no fucking choice."

It is this borderline overwrought reverence which separates Joy Division from their peers. Can you imagine anybody paying homage to The Happy Mondays in such superfluous manner? (Bless him; Wilson did try to convince the World that Shaun Ryder was the present day equivalent to William Butler Yeats). Joy Division courts this deference for good reason. Beneath the ham-fisted hyperbole is a genuine tale about four lads from post-industrial Manchester who resolved to form a band off the back of a Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. Theirs is an honest account in an age saturated with careerists, over-mediated to the point of nausea. So-called rock stars collect ticks and quirks so that their PR can hopefully buy their legacy. Joy Division's existence alone, free from posturing, seems enough to guarantee their endurance. It's worked so far - in 2007 there was much furore over Anton Corbijn's biopic Control and now in 2010, Rhino Records have released a limited edition vinyl box set called + - (Plus Minus) to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis' death.

If trends are cyclical then Joy Division appear to be the axis around which they spin. Both they and New Order never seem far from the lips of name-dropping musos of the day yet it's difficult to reconcile the ever-burgeoning legacy of the band with their actual output. Joy Division, it has to be remembered, only released two albums 'proper.' Various compilations have been released since Curtis' death including Still (FACT 40), Substance (FACT 250) and 1997's Heart and Soul which actually gathered virtually everything the group ever recorded. So despite Joy Division's re-emergence at the pinnacle of cultural zeitgeist, what demand could there possibly be? Is Joy Division's relevance still potent enough to warrant + -'s release?

+ - will doubtless be perceived as a completist's-only wet dream. Ten 7in singles are collected here (21 tracks) all newly re-mastered from original tapes by Stephen Morris and Frank Arkwright. In addition, Rhino will also release a deluxe digital iTunes LP version along with interview footage of the re-mastering sessions. Promo videos are included too featuring classic performances of 'Transmission' from the Something Else show and a previously unreleased live performance of 'Colony' from the legendary 1979 Apollo show. As a retrospective, + - provides abundant justification of the respect that is accorded Joy Division. The frightening fact is that a lot of what is contained here never found a home on a Joy Division album 'proper': 'Transmission,' 'Dead Souls,' 'Atmosphere' and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart,' a song covered by seemingly every musician who ever drew breath, voted the greatest song of the last 25 years at the Brit Awards in 2005. Utterly devastating.

Co-Factory-founder Peter Saville was enlisted to provide the artwork for + - and as always he was in iconic mood. Saville famously provided the radio wave emitted from a black hole in space in negative for the sleeve of 'Unknown Pleasures.' This cover was easily one of the visual signifiers of its time and managed, quite succinctly, to summarise the band's identity and should not be overlooked as a contributor to Joy Division's myth and longevity. The cover of + - sees Saville providing another stark, minimalist graphic.

Several factors have conspired to prolong the Joy Division story and merit its constant re-telling; the aforementioned art of one Peter Saville; Factory's DIY ethos; Martin Hannett's production, Ian's poetry (how did a 23-year-old write like that?) and his tragedy. For the endless cabal of fans enamoured of Ian's myth there are equal amounts besotted with the actual music. The songs. Stephen Morris' rhythms have influenced generations and his sound (created with Hannett) revolutionised dance music (Ask James Murphy). Every band today seems to owe a debt to Peter Hook's idiosyncratic approach, from The Rakes to Kasabian. Even Joy Division's utilitarian garb has been pilfered (See Interpol). Their influence is felt across the cultural landscape.

The most enduring aspect of it all is the fact that this was all born of innocence. Joy Division found their sound accidentally when Hook would play lead parts high up on his bass just so he could hear himself. This naiveté extends to their story. The image was real, the delivery brutally honest and the sound straightforward and truthful. Without trying, Joy Division changed music forever. A wave emitted from a black hole in space.

This is Ian Curtis' legacy after 30 years. Is there still a demand? Of course. + - is another in a long line of eulogies, many of which I'm sure are yet to be written. His memory and that of Joy Division live through these releases as they are what the band was actually about, beneath the hyperbole and mythos. It is the music. The songs. It deserves to be commemorated.

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