Column: Joy Division
Ten good, bad and unforgivable covers of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'
Words Jessica Jordan-Wrench
Despite their tragically brief career, Joy Division’s legacy is immense. Their enduring appeal was highlighted last week, in the excitement surrounding the download release of a re-mastered live album. It is also illustrated in the sheer number of artists who choose to cover their songs, and in particular ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Arguably Joy Division’s most-treasured track, it has been re-worked countless times since its release in 1980, soon after the suicide of Ian Curtis. Here we look at ten key versions, from the sublime to the ridiculous, with a brief detour into the downright terrifying.
Nouvelle Vague’s version opened their debut, self-titled album in 2005. Unabashedly bossa nova, the track features the sound of waves gently lapping at the shore and a cuter-than-thou chanteuse, playfully draining all meaning from the lyrics. It would be easy to scream sacrilege, but that would be missing their point. Think of it as a musical manicure: they paint a French-pop polish over the grimy, blood-bitten nails of the original. That said, it’s deafeningly bland.
Evelyn and Evelyn Neville offered a literal perspective in their rendition of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ — the ukulele-wielding duo are conjoined twins. Specifically, they are parapagus tripus dibrachius twins, which means they share three legs, two arms, three lungs, two hearts and a single liver. Lyrical tweaks, pointed inflection and a considered division of lines gave the song a heart-breakingly confessional quality. For example, at one point a hushed Evelyn, seemingly teetering on the edge of a breakdown, muses “You cry out in your sleep? / All my failings exposed…” to which her sister responds “There’s a taste in my mouth / As desperation takes hold.” Poignant stuff, except that Evelyn Evelyn aren’t really conjoined twins. They are Jason Webley and the controversy-courting Amanda Palmer, dressed in what their detractors describe as “crip-drag”. As a result, the cover could be compared to morally dubious filler on an SNL Halloween special.
Swans released the ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart EP’ in 1988. It was originally released in two different versions, with Jarboe and Michael Gira each providing lead vocals on one. The latter even got a video, featuring a floppy-haired Gira gazing into the camera, backed by a green screen. Unsurprisingly, Gira has retrospectively treated the release with disdain, reportedly labelling it a “mistake”. Although lacking in the gut-rupturing intensity of Swans’ most celebrated work, it holds a certain appeal, if only as evidence of Gira as teen pin-up fodder.
C’mon fella, this is too easy, what were you thinking? The less said about this car-crash of a cover the better. Stick to doe-eyed warbling under a jumped-up watering can, Mark, you rocked that.
The closing track on his 2002 album Do You Know Squarepusher?, Tom Jenkinson’s cover marks a brief departure from the digital. Abandoning drill’n’bass, here he favours slightly sped-up, jangling guitars and softly sinister vocals. And when we say ‘softly sinister’, we mean ‘balls-out creepy’. Imagine “Why is the bedroom so cold? / Turned away on your side”, whispered into the sleeping ear of an ex, with the assailant in nothing but leather gloves.
If Squarepusher’s take was gently unnerving, V/VM’s is genuinely terrifying. Dubbed ‘Sick Love Will Tear Us Apart’, James Leyland Kirby’s take hits new heights of menace. It’s as if Leatherface was indulging in a spot of karaoke, housed in the opening scene of Irreversible. In all seriousness, it’s probably best not to listen to this alone. But then, what did you expect from a chap in a pig-mask?
Yat-Kha hail from Tuva, Southern Siberia. They are fronted by Albert Kuvezin, a vocalist who employs a distinctive, contra-bass style of throat singing, which he terms kanzat kargyraa. One listener on YouTube has caused outrage in the comments thread for this track by describing it as “Joy Division via the Cookie Monster”, prompting a typically mannered debate on the prosaic tastes of the Western ear. Joy Division via the Cookie Monster does sound about right, though.
Bis released their cover in 2001, as a hidden track on the UK release of their third full-length, Return To Central. Here the indie-pop Scots dive head first into 8 Bit, creating a suitable soundtrack to a doomed love affair of Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog.
Calexico’s glorious cover uproots the Macclesfield classic and sends it soaring into Tucson, Arizona. Here the bitter bite of the original is sweetened with lilting harmonies, sweeping melodies and a driving rhythm. It’s begging to underscore the closing moments of an American indie flick where Ryan Gosling leaves his love because it is “the right thing to do”. Like some kind of a cowboy Casablanca.
U2 & Arcade Fire
In 2005, U2 and Arcade Fire joined forces to lump the shit out of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ on stage in Montreal. Bono even attempts an octave leap in the second half. It would happily sit in the awkward early-hours of a nightmare wedding; as if your drunk uncle had decided to collaborate with the bongo-pushing pot-heads from your undergraduate course.