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Friday, February 9, 2018

Joy Division: Heart And Soul

JOY DIVISION: HEART AND SOUL (1977-1980; 1997)

CD I: Unknown Pleasures + bonus tracks; CD II: Closer + bonus tracks; CD III: Studio rarities; CD IV: Live rarities.

General verdict: Hardly worth it for the rarities, definitely worth it for the comprehensive feels.

Although I do not usually make separate sections for boxsets, Heart And Soul merits an exception, since it contains almost two discs' worth of previously unreleased, or at least long-out-of-print, goodies. Before the special expanded releases of Unknown Pleasures and Closer, it may have been the ultimate package for the fan — just about everything the band ever released in its lifetime and beyond that, wrapped together in a single artsy package, with tons of photos, liner notes, lyrics, you name it. Today, in the age of digital downloads, its importance has certainly dimmed down, and as of 2017, the box is out of print, but I'm pretty sure that it, or its equivalent, will return again sooner or later, because, after all, what is a cult band without a cult coffeetable boxset?

That said, in terms of getting us any new material it is a relative disappointment. The first two CDs offer you the two classic albums plus a selection of single and EP tracks, most of which had already been available on Still and Substance. The main hopes lie with the third disc, a chrono­logical assemblage of previously released and unreleased rarities, starting with the An Ideal For Living EP (ʽWarsawʼ and other tracks from the punk era), which we already saw on Substance; continuing with three tracks from the abandoned Warsaw album, discussed in the previous review; and probably culminating with a set of live-in-the-studio tracks from The Peel Sessions — truly the high point, since these performances only saw very limited release in EP and CD form in the late Eighties and early Nineties. For the record, these versions of ʽLove Will Tear Us Apartʼ and ʽColonyʼ sound just about perfect, sharper and with more energy than in their usual form, perhaps. However, collectors will probably experience the greatest delight at the early 1980 demo of ʽCeremonyʼ — presented here in rather low fidelity, but still far clearer in terms of guitar sound than on any live recording (except for the vocals, alas, which are barely audible).

The real disappointment is the fourth disc. Apparently, compilers of the boxset wanted to make fans really happy by scooping up as much previously unreleased material as they could find; un­fortunately, it seems like none of the tracks are soundboard recordings — everything is strictly bootleg quality, particularly the first ten tracks, taken from a Manchester show in July 1979, when the band was arguably at its energetic peak: the version of ʽInterzoneʼ captured here shows them ready to bring down the house, but, unfortunately, even with the lowest audiophile require­ments (like mine) it is fairly hard to enjoy the muck with half of the frequencies eaten up. On the other end of the spectrum, the February 29, 1980 show at the Lyceum in London was hardly one of their best gigs — you do get to witness a rare live version of ʽThe Eternalʼ, but Curtis is so awfully out of tune on it that it just keeps reminding me of how technically weak as a singer he had always been, and that is not something I need to be reminded of while following the slow funeral procession of the song.

Consequently, the optimistic perspective on the boxset is that it presents you with everything you ever wanted to know about Joy Division and more. The pessimistic perspective, on the other hand, is that it is highly questionable whether you actually want to know more. For all the bootleggish nature of Warsaw, that album, when heard in complete form, did really add an entire new chapter to the Joy Division history — Heart And Soul only borrows a few pages out of that chapter, and clearly shows you that this is it, folks: after all, Joy Division were not The Fall or Guided By Voices — they reached higher peaks, perhaps, but at the expense of skipping those smooth, endless kilometers of lower valleys. Still, great bands deserve optimistic perspectives that trump pessimistic ones, don't they?

2 comments:

  1. On the other hand, the demo of "In A Lonely Place" sounds just about perfect, but gets cut off after the second verse...

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    1. And if you want a physical copy of the full nearly-six-minutes version, it's only available on an exclusive Record Store Day vinyl...

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