Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis has waited almost 30 years to become a star of stage and screen, so he's not going to let a little thing like being dead interfere with his Moment. And with Rhino's expanded reissues of the dour Manchester quartet's three albums — three different concerts (and one sound check) are tacked onto bonus discs — plus noted rock videographer Anton Corbijn's new Curtis biopic, Control, the band's Moment has officially arrived.
Almost three decades after Curtis' May 1980 suicide, which occurred just days before the band was to leave on its first American tour, Joy Division is arguably bigger than ever. Though its influence registered almost immediately in the music of bands such as U2, Echo & the Bunnymen and fellow Mancs the Smiths, today it's just as easy to detect in leading indie rockers such as Low, Interpol and the National. (And indeed in Vegas superstars the Killers, who put their Springsteen fetish on hold long enough to contribute a faithful cover of "Shadowplay" to the Control soundtrack.) No decent music library is complete without copies of at least 1979's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer (1981's posthumous Still is a hit-and-miss collection of odds and ends), but the Control soundtrack is probably a better introduction to Joy Division's world than either one. Besides cornerstone songs "Dead Souls," "Transmission" (performed by the cast), "Atmosphere" and, of course, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," it includes music from contemporaries like the Buzzcocks and Joy Division's own key influences: the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk and David Bowie (Brian Eno Berlin-era weirdness on "Warzawa"). From there, it's easy to trace the development of Joy Division's airlessly bleak sound and Curtis' atonal but hypnotic charisma.
Although musicianship was never Joy Division's strong suit — the band's sloppiness, especially live, was as much a byproduct of technical ineptitude as any lingering debt to punk rock — its skeletal arrangements and meandering tempos allowed Curtis to give his epilepsy-driven inner demons free reign, resulting in some of the most compelling, chilling and oddly exhilarating music of its time. In our time, conversely, Joy Division has finally been acknowledged as rock stars: As part of this reissue avalanche, Rhino is also releasing ringtones of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Transmission." So wherever Ian Curtis may be, it's a pretty safe bet he's glad he's not around for that.