New Order/Joy Division – Total (Rhino/Warner Music) CD REVIEW

IF EVER THERE was a lesson in how great bands change their name and turn to shit, this is it.
Total starts with five awesome, transformative, spooky works of near-genius by Joy Division. These songs, made in the very late 1970s, feel utterly beyond time, the late Ian Curtis’ voice sounding like a disembodied echo of The Doors’ similarly fated Jim Morrison. The sound: nothing like the stilted punk that preceded it in Warsaw, and nothing like the synth-pop that followed it, in New Order. The sound: a dark, cavernous, thing that reverberated through space, manipulated by Martin Hannett’s extreme production to a sonic nonplace urban field that was neither soiled by the orthodoxy of rock, nor the sordid prerogative of dance, but used the strengths of both.
Songs like the still heartbreaking ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and the glistening tears of ‘Atmosphere’.
Meanwhile, the next 13 songs bring us down to earth with a shudder and a deepening sense of disappointment. New Order had their moments, but even ‘Blue Monday’, which sounded like a revolutionary call to the dancefloor at the time, is thin and tamed by time and everything that came after.
Listening to New Order after the apocalyptic more-than-just-music of Joy Division is a terrible letdown. It’s workmanlike, humdrum, the vocals are ordinary, and the group’s idea of evolution seems like that of dullards. Hey, we heard that Arthur Baker chap was making some cool American dance music, let’s get him to fatten up our sound. Hey, the word is this Britpop thing is about to take over the world, so let’s get our guitars strumming away and maybe people will forgive us our disco demeanours.
New Order have really asked for it by allowing their work to be compared to Joy Division, a group with which they shared members, but the onward march of history has shown to be their one (and sadly short) moment of bliss, albeit bliss soaked in a thick coating of misery.
Go buy the two remastered Joy Division albums, if you don’t already own them. And ignore this. It’s a woeful attempt at necromancy. GARY STEEL
Music = 2.5
Sound = 3

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