Tuesday Ten: 099: Joy Division/New Order covers – 30 years since the death of Ian Curtis

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death. The influence of his band and of course New Order that formed in the wake of his death has been enormous, and nowhere is this shown more by the massive list of covers of both band’s songs.


So, it only seems right that this week’s Tuesday Ten should reference this – here are ten covers of Joy Division and New Order tracks that I feel are perhaps worth a listen. I’ve included seven from Joy Division, and three from New Order – and I’m sure I’ve missed something obvious that is great (although I can’t recall any good cover versions of my favourite Joy Division track, Transmission).

We’ll start with the New Order covers.

The single that catapulted this otherwise little-known nu-metal-industrial band blinking into the limelight, it also (re)kickstarted something of a fad of their peers covering just about any eighties song they could get their hands on (which reached it’s nadir when Korn covered Word Up). Still, this was an interesting, and kick-ass, take on a very familiar song (the use of the treated guitars is clever, too).

A band who are not short of eighties synth/electro covers in their repertoire (and indeed have also covered Blue Monday), and who could be said to have based much of their career on a musical style based pretty much on the path that New Order blazed some years before. Still, this is a pretty faithful, if oddly passionless, cover that is instantly recognisable as True Faith.

Stefan Groth and his band have made something of a habit of performing covers, with every Apop album containing at least one, and it was perhaps no surprise to see a compilation of them, with a few “new” ones thrown in too. This was the most extraordinary of them, though – stripping down one of New Order’s bleakest, lovelorn songs to just Groth’s voice and a piano to astounding effect, and in the process laying bare just how dark and bleak this song really was.

And now, onto Joy Division:

Oh, I had such high hopes for this band once I caught on to the stonking single Don’t Stop. The album didn’t deliver a great deal, to be fair, and sadly this single doesn’t, either, for the most part. Hiding much of the vocals beneath an avalanche of effects losing something of the point of the song, although it must be said that the hulking breakbeat that kicks in about halfway through is pretty impressive. Joy Division were there…somewhere.

A track I’ve heard perhaps a few too many times – and I suspect that a much younger me heard this version before the original, sadly – when you go back to the original after listening to this nowadays it’s striking just how faithful a cover this was. Like many others, though, this version automatically brings to mind The Crow, rather than Ian Curtis’ black-as-pitch original.

James Murphy’s often arch and ironic, discofied post-punk style is a surprisingly good fit for covering this – which may be down to Murphy’s talent and clear knowledge of the source material. Needless to say, the humour is swept under the carpet here, leaving a taut and slightly reverential take on one of the earlier Joy Division tracks that is nonetheless impressive.

On an album as damned-near-perfect as Troublegum, Andy Cairns and the boys even managed to get their choice of cover bang-on, too. The whole album was wracked with self-loathing, doubt and hatred, despite sounding quite poppy at points, and this cover fitted the mood just right. Like all of the best covers of Ian Curtis’ work, letting the beauty and elegance of the original song shine through appears to be the way to go.

For their recent remix albums (there were two in the end), LSD have attempted a couple of interesting covers (the other that springs to mind was a cracking cover of Nirvana’s Territorial Pissings), and this is one of them. Yet another where important elements are left well alone, too – so the mighty bassline that underpins this track is present and correct, and the (instrumental) chorus rips in without warning, even when you think you are expecting it. Also of note is the somewhat older Girls Against Boys cover (from 1995), that appeared on the Joy Division tribute album A Means to an End: The Music of Joy Division, released just after the fifteenth anniversary of Curtis’ death.

Everyone has covered this, it seems, but Swans’ version – or more correctly, versions – is particularly divisive. Released all the way back in 1988, when Michael Gira was trying to move away from the fearsome noise of Swans’ earlier releases, it’s not hard to see, perhaps, why Gira disliked the version his vocals were leant to, as for some reason, his voice just doesn’t fit. Jarboe’s take, though, is better than many let on, and with the organ and gently picked acoustic guitar – not to mention the multitracked Jarboe backing vocal – it’s actually quite a sweet take. Although it’s perhaps time that everyone stopped covering this – if there is anyone left who hasn’t done so already – and Paul Young deserves his own room in hell for his cover.

I’m not a huge fan of the earlier Neurosis material in the main, principally because the rougher-edged, hardcore sound they had at the time just doesn’t sit as well their songs than the experimental monster that they became a few years later. But The Word As Law is worth a look at least for this cover of one of Joy Division’s bleakest songs (yes, I know they are all bleak, but this is more so than most), and it’s ground out in similar style to the original, with a little more to the guitars, and a howling, bluesy vocal that perhaps could be deemed as appropriate to the, um, vibe. Frankly, though, these guys are one of the few bands that create atmospheres as intense and dark as Joy Division ever did, even if musically they are in a different, if equally dark, universe.

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