New Music Reviews

Joy Division’s Love Will Tear us Apart: A Song of Tragedy and Ecstasy

This is the 40th anniversary of Joy Division’s iconic song and to celebrate there is a new vinyl pressing. So, this is a sneaky new music…But it’s my site, so I can break the rules. Even though this is not a new song, the new pressing gives fans an opportunity to hear it in its vinyl glory. This is the way the band wanted the original song experienced in 1980 on Factory vinyl. This is also the record where U2 got to come in the studio and watch Ian record it, which had a lasting impression on Bono.

On May 18, 1980 Ian Curtis was found dead from suicide. The band had recently finished recording their second record Closer and were set to release Love Will Tear us Apart as a single. Even though the band was going through some creative struggles, Morris, Hook and Sumner all loved Ian and knew Joy Division could not exist without him. However, they wanted to honour Ian’s memory and released Love Will Tear Us Apart in June, only a month after Ian’s death, and Closer shortly after. Both the single and the album were critical and popular hits. Later, the band will form New Order and the rest is history.

In a way, Love Will Tear us Apart is a timeless document of the torment Ian was going through leading up to his death. During the time of its recording the band was touring, putting their second album together, staying up all night recording and trying to function in everyday life. Ian was also having marital troubles as he had an affair with a music journalist, while also trying to care for his wife and daughter. All of this stress led to epileptic seizures, little sleep, lots of drinking and deep depressive states. Hook and Sumner will later talk about how they wanted Ian to take a break, but he kept wanting to record and push through the music. The music was always a mode of escape for Ian, but his obsessive reliance on it, as his life crumbled around him, may have intensified his suicidal ideation.

All of this emotional pain is laid bare on the record. If Ian was anything, he was genuine and honest in his lyrics. Curtis wrote primarily about his failing marriage wth wife Deborah, “Why is the bedroom so cold? You turned away on your side.” However, at the heart of the song was a sense of hopelessness and regret, which will ultimately lead to Curtis’ eventual suicide. In the most prophetic part of the track, he sings: “You cry out in your sleep, all my failing exposed / There’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold / Just that something so good, just can’t function no more.” This is Curtis’ pain on full display for everyone to see. There is an honesty in the lyrics which on the one hand can be affirming to someone experiencing such despair, but in Curtis’ case it may have been a cry for help. For Morris, Sumner and Hook they knew Curtis needed support, but Ian kept escaping into the music and becoming more isolated and more dependent on alcohol rather than sleep. For the rest of the band, it looked like Curtis was in one of his creative modes where he would throw everything at a record and it would pass after release, just like Unknown Pleasures. Unfortunately, this would not come to pass as Ian withdrew and became more hopeless.

Musically, the track has an energy to it that resonates to this day. Similar to Unknown Pleasures, Hannett produced this single in his own unique way. Sumner would later talk about how Hannett would spend hours in the studio, until 2 or 3am, obsessively searching for the perfect mix. In one case, he called Morris at home at 2am to wake him up and order him back in the studio for another drum take. Morris was irate and finally got to the studio after 3am. He verbally abused Hannett and hit the snare with all of fury to send a message to Hannett to never wake him up again. Well, Hannett got the take he wanted and the energy he captured on the snare is the percussive force that drives the song. The beautiful landscape of synth, guitar and bass is a stark contrast to Curtis’ deep regretful vocals. I mean, it probably has one of the most famous bass hooks in music history. It is this contrast that makes the song interesting and drives home a powerful emotional hook.

The track Love Will Tear us Apart is one of the best singles in rock history. The raw emotional lyrics are like nothing written before or since. Moreover, the instrumentation and musical skill on display hints at punk power residing deep within a luxurious etherial plane. The song is both tragic and euphoric. It is both a song of hopelessness and of ecstasy. The fact that one song can hold so many conflicting and complex themes is a work of genius and is why Love Will Tear us Apart will continue to connect with people for generations to come.

Listen to Love Will Tear us Apart

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