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Full disclosure - I don’t really like Joy Division or New Order, but if ever a book was going to make me like them, then “Decades” by John Aizlewood would be the closest thing to it. Forever the darlings of the music critics, there has always been a sense that both groups are bulletproof and beyond true criticism. Like Berlin-era Bowie, Morrissey and The Smiths, someone has decided that THEY ARE IMPORTANT, and we need to keep talking about them, even when they’re being rubbish. Luckily, John Aizlewood is very good at talking about Joy Division and New Order. This book is for both hardcore fans and those whose knowledge extends only to knowing that Joy Division did “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and New Order did that surprisingly good World Cup song. As author John Aizlewood maintains in his history of the two bands, Ian Curtis “meant it”. Indeed, I think this is a crucial factor in their lasting importance. Dying young, ostensibly on the cusp of greatness, his legend remains preserved in aspic because he didn’t live long enough to become rubbish. Aizlewood writes vividly and economically on the early years of the band members and offers insightful analyses on each album and single; this is a real fan speaking. Lucid “sleeve notes” sidebars accompany the dissection of each album. Emerging from the “dirty old town” of postwar Manchester, a deprived yet indomitable city, grammar school boys Bernard Dicken (later Albrecht then Sumner) and Peter “Hooky” Woodhead bonded at school (sort of) over a shared love of music and misbehaviour. On meeting the intense and married Ian Curtis, the band Warsaw was formed, to some acclaim, with Stephen Morris eventually warming the drum stool. As Aizlewood memorably puts it, only death would change the lineup. After a necessary name-change, Joy Division were born, honing their dystopian music as a reaction to the post-industrial surroundings of Manchester. Aizlewood writes unsensationally on the suicide of Ian Curtis, quoting music press obits of the time, one of which claimed Ian’s death “froze” Joy Division in an eternal moment of almost making it. To do that, they would have to reinvent themselves as New Order, recruiting Stephen Morris’ girlfriend, Gillian Gilbert, on keyboards. All of that band’s hits & misses, highs & lows, splits & reunions, solo projects of varying quality and nightclub-owning shenanigans are examined by Aizlewood as New Order initially struggle to exorcise the ghosts of Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The biggest-selling 12” record (remember them?) of all time, “Blue Monday”, would change all that. New Order’s latter years are a litany of strained inter-band relationships, financial mismanagement and Hooky’s alcoholism; painful to read but sadly essential when discussing this particular band’s history. Saturated with cultural references from one of the greatest ever music eras and fully illustrated with photographs, (complete with irreverent captions), “Decades” is erudite but also incredibly funny; John Aizlewood eschews the usual pretentiousness that Joy Division engender in favour of a writing style which borders on satire. But his admiration for the music comes through strongly. The result is as good a history of Joy Division and New Order (including all the awkward things associated with them) that we could ever hope for. “Decades” is an outstanding, coffee-table-friendly history of two of the most interesting bands ever to come out of Britain.
Even if I was a goth in the 80s I wasn't a huge fan of Joy Division (even if Decades is in my top ten of fav songs) and didn't like New Order. I started to listen to them later in my life and appreciating their sounds. This is an interesting biography that analyses the band, their story and talks about some aspects that are not so well known or remembered. I appreciated the style of writing and how the author deals with a sort of "untouchable and seminal" band. Well researched and well written, it's was also a lot of fun to read. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
Joy Division + New Order: Decades by John Aizlewood is an excellent look at the story of these bands/this band. I liked Joy Division the first time I heard them but I do remember being unable to put my finger on exactly why. Like so many US listeners, I first heard them either just before or just after Ian Curtis' death, I can't remember which. By the time New Order began getting US airplay I knew all of Joy Division's songs pretty well. I won't say I was disappointed at first with New Order but it did take a while to separate them from Joy Division in my mind, after which I could appreciate them for what they were. It was painful reading the first part of the book, if you know what is going to happen to Curtis you can't help but feel like you want to intervene. Not to mention it showed in detail what always seemed the case from the distance of fanhood, Peter Hook was a completely self-absorbed misogynist sphincter. A talented one but totally classless nonetheless. There, I feel better now. While this is essential for any fan, casual or otherwise, I also think this would be a fascinating read for anyone interested in the music scene of the period. Whether the Manchester scene, the UK scene in general, or, particularly with New Order, the worldwide scene. Coupled with excellent photographs and excellent writing, this will be a pleasant addition for any such reader. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.