The 2000 election must not be forgotten.
The world needs more ballots, not more bullets.
Cracks in the Coalition
The rest of the world begins to sour on the war.
Abortion Under Attack
Chipping away at the right to choose.
But Venezuela's "revolution" faces many obstacles.
Selling the War.
The IRA moves forward with decommissioningbut some loyalists don't want peace.
New Yorkers elect Bloomberg as their next mayor.
There's a Police Riot Goin' On
Anti-war marchers feel the chill in Connecticut.
Climate of Fear
Long Island activist is charged as a "terrorist."
Fred Korematsu made a federal case out of it.
MUSIC: No joy for New Order.
The Vagina that Roared
BOOKS: Susanna Kaysen's "sore spot."
FILM: Fat Girl and French Feminism.
Mind out of Time
The seven ages of Bob.
November 9, 2001
Rhythm and Sorrow
n May 18, 1980, Ian Curtis, husband, father and lead singer of Joy Division,
committed suicide on the eve of the bands first American tour. Were Joy
Division just another band, the story would end there, the bands two albums
and scattered singles merely artifacts lodged amidst the rubble of punk rock.
But two decades after the group effectively disbanded, Curtis death still
casts an imposing shadow that threatens to enshroud anyone who dares exhume
the bands grim body of work. Curtis has come to symbolize depression and
gloom, and his name is inextricable from his sad demise.
The three remaining members of Joy Division have said they became New Order
not because they wanted to try something different, but because they knew that
their music could never be the same. Theres a reason its his blurred
visage that graces Heart and Soul, a four-disc boxed set, rather than
a full band shot. Despite the obvious importance of Bernard Sumners primitive
guitar, Peter Hooks strummed bass and Stephen Morris hyperactive
drums, Curtis spirit dominates the music.
Heart and Soul includes virtually everything Joy Division ever recorded
(singles, albums, EPs, unreleased live rarities), and its somber design and
stately reverence serve more effectively as Curtis eulogy than any other
previous collection. Joy Division is undeniably the sound of one mans
unspeakable anguish, the echoes of his doubt-ridden questionsCould
these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man? or Can
I go on with this train of events?bouncing unanswered off the studio
walls. Indeed, one of Heart and Souls greatest attributes is a
full lyric sheet, so armchair analysts can now scrutinize each of the bands
songs for suicidal subtext.
Even though its impossible to listen to Curtis lyrics without thinking
of his fate, Joy Divisions music still sounds remarkably rootless. Even
the early material, released in 1978 under the name Warsaw, finds the quartet
struggling against the rigid conventions of punk. By the time of Joy Divisions
second (and final) album Closer, the band had metamorphosed into something
completely different, an artful synthesis of clatter and grace, ethereal keyboards
and abrasive noise, doom-laden dance music that would later be deemed death
disco. Closer solidified Joy Divisions reputation and ensured
that its legacy would continue on in bands across the musical spectrum. The
music still screams with an urgent vibrancy, like Edgar Allan Poes protagonist
in The Premature Burial struggling for one last gasp of air.
ast forward approximately 20 years. New Order, arguably the laziest band alive,
have released Get Ready, their first album in eight years. Against all
odds every bit as influential and important as their predecessor, New Order
made electronic music vital and viable as pop music. The group never set down
their instruments even as they fiddled with drum machine prototypes and early
synthesizers, working in relative secrecy and performing with unabashed sloppiness.
That their music proved successful surely baffled the group, even as it bolstered
the rabid fans that scrambled for every single and remix.
Sumner took over for Curtis as singer because, apparently, he drew the short
straw in a band lotto. Once given the chance to lead, his lyrics quickly moved
to more casual turf than Curtis traversed. In fact, Sumners own gift seemed
to be the ability to magically stumble upon a good line here and there, instantly
making up for all his daft clunkers. That same sense of random brilliance pervades
New Orders catalog. No single New Order album sounds like it was started
and finished with a clear gameplan in mind, but most of the time the impromptu
strategy paid off.
ew Order could have continued in the same somber vein of Joy Division, but
chance band decisions transformed the group into something else. To get an idea
of what Joy Division might have become, one need only seek out the recently
released Crystal Days, which collects many of the works of New Orders
hyper-serious rivals Echo and the Bunnymen. New Order could never keep an entirely
straight face, but maybe thats how the band managed to best the competition.
Says Echos Ian McCulloch: They changed the face of music. They were
more influential in affecting their chosen genre: dance music.
McCullochs effusive praise comes as a shock, considering his own impressive
ego, but it also stands utterly at odds with the insignificance of New Orders
recent output. Something happened to New Order at the end of the 80s.
Perhaps disillusioned by the ease of new digital technology or just bored of
stardom, the band receded into side-projects and inactivity.
The relatively strong 1993 comeback Republic, it turns out, was recorded
primarily as a means to clear some debts, even if the results may have worked
out better than planned. Hindered by drugs, drink and indifference, New Order
once again proved they had it in themselves to play music that was without a
doubt New Order, but something was still missing.
Get Ready abandons all pioneering pretense. In fact, the disc could
easily be dismissed as a regressive effort, jettisoning almost all electronics
in favor of electric guitar overload. The minimal synths and pattering canned
beats were one of the groups trademarks, and without them New Order sound
pretty bland. Yes, Hooks bass playing remains reassuring, as do Sumners
lazy lyrics, but the disc as a whole never reaches that perfect mix of naïve
charm, punk edge and techno utopia.
Maybe theres a clue to be found in the two conspicuous guest singers,
a New Order first. Former Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan and Primal Screams
Bobby Gillespie may be two of New Orders biggest fans, but a group of
such stature need not coast on the presence of distracting interlopers. Or do
they? Its sad to think that this far into an amazing career, New Order
have seen fit to capitulate to vague notions of radio-friendly material and
commercial appeal. The last thing we need now is just another rock
band, especially coming from an act known for so much more. Minus its maverick
status, the band is simply less than the sum of its parts, a reversal of the
very charm that made it so interesting to begin with.
Heart and Soul only enhances the reputation of Joy Division, who sounded
like they made music because they had to. New Order, on the other hand, for
the first time sound like a band making music just because they can. Thats
the path of a dinosaur act, not a trailblazer. With all the freedom that New
Order have gained through past successes, they could and should have done so
much more, even within the relatively narrow boundaries of rock music. The still-strong
legacy of Joy Divisions briefly-lived greatness only makes New Orders
failure that much more apparent.
Joshua Klein, a freelance music critic, also writes for the Chicago
Tribune and the Chicago Reader.