It would be great if these remastered, expanded reissues of Joy Division’s only official albums provided some sort of contrarian, revelatory insight into the dominant perception of the group as British post-punk’s ultimate expression of malignant melancholy. Despite improved sonic quality and the inclusion of bonus discs containing full, era-specific live sets (not to mention the very respectful decision not to append the non-album single “Love Will Tear Us Apart” to any of the sets), these reissues serve to reinforce what most people already know about Joy Division – which isn’t a bad thing. The group’s omnipresence on goth kids’ T-shirts and iPods hasn’t invited analysis beyond that paradigm, but the simple fact remains that Joy Division was one of the darkest bands ever to exist. Yet their very discomfort with that darkness – whether in Ian Curtis’ schizophrenic stage presence or the affable, young-lad-in-a-band attitude that drove Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris to delve into that musical malaise – is what made the band unique. Listening to “Day of the Lords,” “Atrocity Exhibition” or “Interzone” nearly 30 years after they were recorded, one is struck by how out of time and place they were in late-’70s Manchester, and how completely individual they sound now. Considering the way Sumner and company complain in the liner notes about Martin Hannett’s invasive production techniques, live shows are where one would expect Joy Division’s belligerent energy to come through. In this collection, live sets are mere amplifications of the terror the group established on vinyl. The presence of the 1979 Factory concert (included with Unknown Pleasures) and the 1980 ULU show (included with Closer) would seem to make the haphazard live set of Still something of a redundancy, but the bonus disc with Still – another 1980 show – is the most riveting and essential of all the concerts.
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