Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Joy Division / New Order

I can't think of another band that lost it's frontman and focal point, yet regrouped and emerged as an even greater popular and critical success. Genesis lost Peter Gabriel and enjoyed an upsurge in appeal, but critical esteem - well, no.

Joy Division, with it's epileptic and depressed Ian Curtis, seemed to find a shadowy corner somewhere at the end of the punk era, hinting at a haunted netherworld that was both raw and spooky. They foreshadowed Goth bands like Bauhaus, and contemporary post-punk revivalists such as Interpol.

After Curtis's suicide, the band stayed together and brought in Stephen Morris's girlfriend Gillian to play keyboards. Now renamed New Order, the band turned out sleek, terse music that flirted with the dance club but retained its punky muscle.

As you can see in this video, the members exude what I would call an attitude of "ordinary genius." In other words, they don't look at all like gods of rock and roll, but they possessed an aesthetic sensibility that set them above just about anything else going on in popular music at the time. Things I love about this video: Gillian turning the knob of a synth module, Stephen looking sheepish, and the Joy Division poster on the wall. The serenity displayed on their faces opposes the cliched depiction of the Romantic "struggle" of the artiste. This is about as far as you can get from "Rock" and still remain "Rock." Their almost militant stance against the Rock stereotype actually seems "punk" to me. It's "cool," in the sense of detachment, but it still rocks like a sledgehammer. It's an enigma.

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