Friday, 25 March 2011

Joy Division Cover Versions

Eleven bands covering Joy Division tracks. Some remain faithful, some put their own indelible spin on it, but most openly acknowledge their musical indebtedness to Joy Division. For a band that only lasted long enough to release two proper albums and a handful of singles, their influence has been enormous.

Enjoy and see if you agree with my marking of these bands' efforts.

1) Nine Inch Nails - "Dead Souls"
Musically a pretty faithful cover, though the buzz guitar isn't as defined as Albrecht's original. Trent Reznor's voice is quite smoothed out and not as desperate sounding as Curtis'. Their version of this appeared on the soundtrack to Brandon Lee's movie "The Crow".


2) Girls Against Boys - "She's Lost Control"
I really like this cover version. (Mind you, after Grace Jones' butchering of this song by slowing everything down to a dirge, anything is an improvement). The squalling guitar works really well against a faithful reproduction of the rhythm section. The vocal both echoes the effects applied to Curtis' voice and yet remains distinctly American, bourbon soaked and gruff. Even the video echoes those B&W photos of JD in their brick rehearsal space.


3) Radiohead - "Ceremony"
I am not a Radiohead fan. I am not in awe of every note they emit. I can't really say much about this cover version, as it seems absolutely faithful in every detail to the original - therefore I ask myself what's the point of it? It's slightly off in places, but even the vocals seem to tilt exactly for Curtis', though no one can quite capture his off kilter voice and emotional cocktail behind it.
As Thom Yorke says at the end of the vid, "Now what?'


4) The Cure - "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
Robert Smith's phrasing is a bit off-putting, but I do like the emotion he puts behind it. The music strips the song of some its complexity as it becomes a bit of a rumble, without the minor variations of the original. It's a curious mix and the Cure aren't a band I would have associated with Joy Division (the Goth thing was always more from their fans I feel), but there's something about this version that wins me over. I almost feel it's Robert Smith's apology for what might have been had the Cure not gone down the line of "Love Cats", but rather stayed more along their own Joy Divisionish "Seventeen Seconds" path.


5) LCD Soundsystem - "No Love Lost"
The weird thing about this, is that it's one of the most covered of JD songs. It dates from their punky 'Warsaw" period and maybe it's raw three-chord thrash is what appeals to those who cover it. LCD do it pretty fair justice, though it's gone a bit techno and lost much of its edge thereby. The harsh choppy guitar of the original sustains the long intro, with keyboards it just doesn't quite hold the same tension. The vocals are great though. There's a pretty bad Horrors version of the same song on YouTube, but I won't honour it with a link.


6) Moby - "New Dawn Fades"
Earnest, acoustic, folky almost, it lacks the menace and urgency of the original. String section? Let's leave that to Ramones covers shall we? The American voice and phrasing doesn't suit this song for some reason, unlike say the Girls Against Boys cover. I think that's to do with the particularly melancholic lyricism. The voice needs to suggest that it really is at the end of its tether.


7) Twilight Sad - "Twenty Four Hours"
I'd never heard of this band when I came across this on You Tube, but I love the monster wall of noise they conjure up for this song. Shoegazing does Division, who knew? The Scottish accent of the vocals gives the alienation a different regional feel, but no less disembowelling. All in all a decent fist of one of the saddest songs ever written.


8) 16 Horsepower - "Day Of The Lords"
This is a tricky one for me, since the JD original is actually one of my least favourite of their songs, despite it's lyrical greatness. I find the music plodding and leaden. So when 16H inject some musical colour and pazazz into it, it's hard to pick them apart for it, even though it's slide guitar suggests it's straight outta Texas rather than Manchester. I'm just a bit bemused by it all really.

5/10 (?)

9) The Killers - "Shadowplay"
One of my favourite tracks off "Unknown Pleasures" and they gut it completely. Everything about this interpretation is wrong. They happify it, prettify it, make it poppy. Uggh! The sit-down crowd passing a pleasant dinner evening is just about fitting for this version. Chicken in a basket?


10) Xiu Xiu and Deerhoof - "Insight"
This band have a whole series of YouTube videos doing different JD songs. There is a version of "Interzone" in which the keyboardist plays a whistle which is genius, but I've gone with their version of "Insight" which is tight, raucous and faithful. A genuine homage that seems to relegate the ego of the band doing the cover version behind the honouring of the song itself and I salute them for that.


11) Swans - "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
After JD ended, I still liked New order, but my favourite band status transferred to Swans and Sonic Youth from New York and the sonic landscapes those two bands produced. But Swans eventually had a change of musical direction and turned the amps down from 11 and took an acoustic turn. Michael Gira's voice just isn't that interesting when it isn't battling against a wall of noise and this version of a JD classic is horrible. A blot on both of two of my all time favourite bands


Bonus Tracks:

A couple of fun versions just to show I'm not completely zealous on all things Joy Division.
Steel Harmony provide a steel band version of "Transmission"

and a playmobil stop action version of Joy Division's performance of "Transmission" on the TV programme "Something Else"

The Steve Morris drumming and Ian Curtis dancing are spot on, but why Curtis is wearing a tie is beyond me, plus Hookey's bass isn't slung nearly low enough.


stupidgirl45 said...

Awesome post!! Love it :)
I see what you mean about the Radiohead cover and also the Cure with LWTUA. Problem is, it's such a distinctive piece that it's hard IMO to do a truly innovative cover of it without losing what makes it so special

Cheers for a fab post for a sunny sunday evening ;)

SG x

Simon Kearns said...

Great post!

I love cover versions. The Girls Against Boys is probably also my favourite here; the song is recognisable, but sounds so different.

I love the Xiu Xiu cover of Insight, especially at the 0.45 min mark when the camera pans to the chick with the guitar just standing there ... what's she gonna do? It's gonna be awesome!

And the Playmobil video - when the drumming started I truly LOLed.

Anyway, as a thank you - here's a JD cover for you:

Sulci Collective said...

Trippy! Someone pointed me to a rather decent version of "Isolation" by Therapy?

keep your other discovered JD cover versions coming please

Moxie Mezcal said...

Fantastic post, I am a HUGE Joy Division fan. For my fave cover, I gotta go with NIN, even though Xiu Xiu + Deerhoof is a close second.

Keir Hardie said...

wot no Jah Division?

P. M. Hollott said...

If possible, I like Galaxie 500's version of "Ceremony" more than the original New Order 7" version.

Stop action Stephen Morris is absolutely brilliant!

Uncle E said...

I am particularly fond of Calexico's version of Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Sulci Collective said...

Keep the recommendations coming chaps. I love checking them all out.



P. M. Hollott said...

True enough - I'd forgotten about the Calexico cover!