It was 34 years ago today that Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis tragically took his own life. The legacy the post-punk pioneer left behind is unmistakable, despite having only two full-length albums to his credit. His influence is evident in the sound of countless bands who continue to be inspired by his somber lyricism. The number of Unknown Pleasures wannabes is exhausting, but we’ve chosen ten of the best Joy Division covers by artists who uniquely transformed Curtis’ songbook.
The Swans — “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
The number of male-led Joy Division covers outweighs the women, so Jarboe’s hauntingly beautiful take on the ironic ballad is a welcome sound. Released as a B-side single with Michael Gira’s version (aka the “Red Version”) leading the way, the remake was the band’s attempt to shift from harsh noise to a more palatable sound. Gira regretted the decision, but the song became a college radio hit, leading to a major record deal in 1998. Here’s a music video version of Gira’s rendition.
LCD Soundsystem — “No Love Lost”
Yes Virginia, you can have a little dance-cum-rock-cum-pop with your Joy Division, easy on the melancholy.
Grace Jones — “She’s Lost Control”
Grace Jones’ radical reggae cover of “She’s Lost Control,” created to shed her ’70s disco image, is wonderfully deranged. Kodwo Eshun describes Jones’ screeching reincarnation via Joy Division’s epileptic ode in More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction :
The womanmachine Grace Jones’ 82 remodel of Joy Division’s ’79 “She’s Lost Control” updates the ’50s mechanical bride. For the latter losing control meant electric epilepsy, voice drained dry by feedback. For Jones, the female model that’s losing control induces the sense of automation running down, the human seizing up into a machine rictus. The model — as girl, as car, as synthesizer — incarnates the assembly time of generations, obsolescence, 3-year lifespans.
Low — “Transmission”
Slowcore icon Alan Sparhawk discussed the origins of his band’s silky cover in a 2010 interview:
We did that around the same time we did our second record. I’m glad somebody liked it. I’m a huge Joy Division fan. When we started Low, it’s fair to say there were certain favorite bands that I was looking at as touchstones as far as, ‘These guys, whatever they’re doing, they’re totally owning it.’ The minimalism of them. Definitely the tone of Ian Curtis’ lyrics were huge influences on me.
The first record I got of theirs was Still. I guess the reason we did “Transmission” is that we felt like… I don’t know, we were looking at other songs that were more appropriate or typical of us, but it felt like we would have done something they had already done, so I thought, ‘Well, let’s take one of the more aggressive songs and slow it down and see what happens.’
Red House Painters — “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Did minor key brother from another mother Mark Kozelek forget the lyrics halfway through “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” or was he just being a sarcastic shit? Either way, Kozelek gives better “Blah, blah, blah” than most. Listen to the track over here.
Pink Mountaintops — “Atmosphere”
For those of you who wondered what Velvet Underground covering Joy Division might sound like.
The Cure — “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Adrian Borland — “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere”
If ever there were two kindred artists, Adrian Borland’s aching and inspired rendition of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a fitting tribute.
Trent Reznor and Peter Murphy — “Dead Souls”
Spooky nineties kids worshipped at the altar of Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails cover of “Dead Souls” in The Crow, starring Brandon Lee. The band’s Downward Spiral was released just months before the film’s theatrical premiere. While strippers in clubs across the world were misinterpreting the meaning of “Closer” and grinding out the line “I wanna fuck you like an animal,” goths everywhere were sulkily approving of Reznor’s nod to the forefather of gloom.
Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy joined Reznor years later for a series of intense Joy Division covers. The songs almost seem custom-made for the hypnotic intoner.
Tortoise — “As You Said”
Your hatred of post-rock aside, Tortoise brings something new to the table with this cover of a rare Joy Division instrumental.