Ian Curtis has been gone for 37 years. More legend than actual flesh and blood human at this point, Curtis’ harrowing baritone and gloomy songwriting has influenced countless bands to pick up instruments and pour their existential torment into song. Hell, Interpol were practically a Joy Division cover band when they first came slunking out of the NYC underground at the turn of the century! While Curtis – in all of his tragic beauty, so committed to his message that he ended his own life on the eve of what was surely to be their breakthrough album – can be seen as the “face” of Joy Division, it was clearly bassist Peter Hook who was the band’s thumping, pugilistic heart. Hooky’s basslines not only formed the backbone of the band’s sound, but also tied the band to the punk underground from which it was spawned. It’s fitting, then, that his new band The Light, have become standard bearers and protectors of sorts for the Joy Division catalogue.
Over the course of a couple years, Peter Hook and the Light have traveled Europe and the U.S. performing the two Joy Division albums and the first two New Order records in full. This might seem at best an exercise in nostalgia and at worst a crass flogging of the corpse for filthy lucre. You would be right to seem skeptical. Here’s the thing, though – these four releases feel wholly vital! In the place of Curtis’ vampiric croon, Hook’s hoarse bellow breathes new life into the songs that he’s probably played thousands of times. Part tribute, part exorcism, songs like “Day of the Lords”, “Candidate” and “Dead Souls” shake off the funereal air of their studio renditions and become something bigger, fleshier, livelier. It’s a thrill to hear some of the material from “Closer” performed live for the first time, and the backing band (basically Hook’s late-90s combo Monaco and his son Jack on second bass) more than capably turns what were skeletal, tense sketches into blasts of fury and sound. These live versions also reveal something that is often overlooked in the canonization of Joy Division as godfathers of mope – their songs have hips! I’m not sure that anyone would ever categorize “New Dawn Fades’ as a dance song, but you can really sway and move to it in a way that is both surprising and entirely natural. And this might be the greatest feat of these albums – removing the weight of history and importance and turning them into breathing, living rock songs. This balance of reverence and feral attack is Hook’s greatest gift. Though Ian Curtis may be but a memory, I’d like to think that he would approve of Hooky’s curation and reinvigoration of his short life’s work.