In news more slightly shocking than Dave Pirner once shagging Winona Ryder, ’90s grunge dudes SOUL ASYLUM (we think that’s them in the photo) will digitally release a covers EP titled No Fun Allowed on July 17, and among its tracks are a rendition of perhaps the finest song of the 20th century, Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” That sound you hear is Ian Curtis on a rotisserie spit.
Soul Asylum talked to Rolling Stone about this whole idea last year in a post dated March 30, 2012. It being so close to April Fool’s Day, I dismissed it as a ruse, but fucking hell it looks like the aural abortion will come to fruition. This released, titled No Fun Intended, will be the first of four, and also includes covers of “Attacking The Beat” by the Suicide Commandos and MC5’s “Shakin’ Street.” Later EPs will take on Dead Kennedys, the Stooges, Generation X, and others.
Here’s a clip of Pirner and company performing “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at a show last summer in Minnesota. It’s a pretty faithful take on the classic, and really …nothing to get worked up over.
So, with that in mind, let’s move on. Obviously covering Joy Division is nothing new for bands both famous and obscure, and the internet is littered with musicians re-discovering their finest known pleasure. So at the risk of flirting with clickbait, here are the Top 5 Best Joy Division Covers of All Time, as chosen by me. (Spoiler alert: no one’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” makes the list.)
5. Low, “Transmission”
Minnesota indie trio Low have been releasing quality “slowcore” tunes since 1993’s debut LP I Could Live In Hope, and should appear on some Best of 2013 lists with brilliant recent single “Just Make It Stop.” This cover of “Transmission,” the stand-out on Virgin’s 1995 collection A Means to an End: The Music of Joy Division (which also features Girls Against Boys, Face To Face, and Codeine) captures the true essence of the Manchester band. At more than six minutes long, it feel like it lasts forever, in a good way. Dance to the radio, but very slowly.
4. LCD Soundsystem, “No Love Lost”
Also a favorite of Boston post-rock band the Bon Savants, “No Love Lost” just seems like a really fun song to play live. Here, it gets the studio treatment from LCD Soundsystem, released as a b-side in 2007. The guitars slash, the beat is modernized, and James Murphy (thankfully) doesn’t try to cop a Curtis. The only thing better than the bassline is shouting out “I need it!” One of the most underrated Joy Division songs in their catalogue, and hard to fuck up.
3. Nine Inch Nails, “Dead Souls”
A bit of a lay-up here, but perspective is important. For a certain generation, this was the gateway drug to Joy Division, the defining moment of unfuckwithable 1994 soundtrack The Crow (sorry “Big Empty”) and the apex of Trent Reznor’s ’90s-goth cool (right before the industrial kids lost him to the mainstream). It’s a cover that somehow manages to be so very NIN yet still so very Joy Division. Hell if I wasn’t so jaded by the past two decades it would likely be Number 1. (Side Note: The Crow soundtrack was released on March 29, 1994 — let’s start planning a 20th anniversary show somewhere in Boston).
2. El Ten Eleven, “Disorder”
“Disorder,” the opening salvo of Joy Division’s 1979 masterpiece Unknown Pleasures, is a live staple of Los Angeles post-rock duo El Ten Eleven. There are dozens of video clips floating around YouTube, but the cleanest rendition comes from a session at Seattle’s KEXP, and in its clarity, you can really appreciate the loops, effects, and crispness that Kristian Dunn and Tim Fogarty create right there on the spot. They disagree with the take’s success at the end of the clip, but for the first three minutes you can witness a bruising punk take shape, layer by layer. Also, my lord that bassline at :32, it never gets old. (And yeah, Vanyaland is pro-Hooky, in case you didn’t notice).
1. Spoek Mathambo, “Control”
Less a cover and more a reworking of “She’s Lost Control,” this is the greatest bit of modernization and re-imagining Joy Division have experienced since their untimely demise in 1980. South African afro-futurist Spoek Mathambo somehow retains the track’s grittiness, darkness, and… ahem, Martin Hannett-ness, and yet creates something so fresh and innovative; a warped, dub-minded electronic take that respects the original’s minimalism. It’s chilling in its bleakness. And the video just seals the deal.