While obviously not as essential as the band's two regular albums, Substance is still an absolute must-have. In fact, it's probably the album I'd recommend first for anyone looking to get into Joy Division. Not only do you get their most famous song - the harrowing, dark synth-pop of "Love Will Tear Us Apart," underpinned by a riff that's equal parts bleak and catchy - but you also get a complete example of what Joy Division is like. Everything from the rather generic and uninteresting punk rock that they started off making to the nervy, jagged post-punk of Unknown Pleasures (totally the Trope Codifier for post-punk, if you ask me) to the more Gothic, icy band that made Closer. All of this in only ten songs! Cool.
Of course, the reason why you need this even if you already have both their regular studio albums is for the three absolutely essential a-sides you get here. I already talked about "Love Will Tear Us Apart," but just to reiterate, it's absolutely incredible. Not their best song IMO (I gotta go with "Twenty-Four Hours"), but a masterpiece regardless. There's also the album's best song, "Transmission," which shows the band firing at all cylinders and working up an apocalyptic groove. The best part of it has got to be Ian, who turns "DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! TO THE RADIO!!!" from a stock phrase to a howl so desperate that you get the feeling that music meant a lot more to this guy than it did to most other musicians. Which is saying something, because you gotta be dedicated to risk not pulling down a buck in your entire life just to get some tunes you wrote out to the general public. Finally, there's the lovely, haunting ballad "Atmosphere," graced by one of Ian's best-ever vocals. Definitely one of their finest tunes ever. And I consider it to be the weakest of the three a-sides here, so that's saying something. Joy Division were an awesome band.
I like most of the other stuff here, though nothing's as good as the three big-deal a-sides. But how's that a surprise? Those three songs haven't all become classics for nothing, you know. I'm not a big fan of the first three songs here, which come from a time when Joy Division were still working out their sound, but you could do far worse as "hey, we're still working out our sound!"-type tunes go, and besides, they're not bad or anything. It's just... well, consider how far the band evolved beyond them. Still, it's nice to have them around, just as evidence of how much this band did evolve. Things start cooking around track four, with the oddly dub-influenced "Autosuggestion," and doesn't really look back from there. There's a slower, creepier version of "She's Lost Control" that works in all kinds of weird keyboard noises, an instrumental ("Incubation") that show the guys who weren't Ian actually were pretty good musicians. Like Ian, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, and Bernard Summer have their technical limitations, but - again like Ian - they make up for it by having all kinds of intangible x factors in their playing. I can see why it's criticized for being pointless, but hey, it works for me. And "Dead Souls" does something this band is great at: conjures up an absolute sense of dread.
And hey, they beefed this one up with a full seven bonus tracks! Usually I don't cover bonus tracks - I like to review an album as it was originally released - but since they tacked on twenty-five minutes' worth of bonus tracks, I think I have to discuss them with you. Anyway, let's see... you get the other half of An Ideal for Living (the first half would be "Warsaw" and "Leaders of Men"), which in my mind is just as "eh... all right" as the first half was, although it sure has its fans around here. Sorry, guys. Actually, I think "No Love Lost" is cool. "Failures" can go away, though. "Glass" is better, though still not up to the quality of the stuff that made the band's real albums.
"From Safety to Where?" is, however. What makes it really work is the scraping, clanging guitar noises, which give the song an almost proto-industrial vibe that it wouldn't have had otherwise. My only complaint is that it's far too short. Meanwhile, the "Transmission" b-side "Novelty" is awesome, a rare Joy Division song where the guitar is up in the front and driving the song - usually, it's either the bass or the keyboards. But here, it's guitar! With wah-wah! And a solo! On a Joy Division song! Yay diversity! There's also "Kokamino," which before now was pretty much impossible to find anywhere. It's a cool song, but it's also sort of Joy Division by numbers, and it's easy to see why it's not held in as high regard as the band's other stand-alone singles. Which are, funnily enough, the only types of singles they ever released. Lastly but not leastly is "These Days." "These Days" is a song by Joy Division. It was released as the b-side of "Love Will Tear Us Apart." And, quite honestly, I have no opinion on it. So maybe it is the worst song here after all.
Still, despite it being a little bit uneven (what do you want, though? B-sides, outtakes, and rarities, remember?), Substance has all kinds of great music on it, and as a compact history of a fantastic band, it definitely deserves a place in your collection. But they're still missing one b-side: "As You Said," one of the two flips to "Kokamino," the other being "Incubation." It isn't all that good, but it's out there. Man, now I gotta start hitting the bars, so I can get free drinks for my knowledge of Joy Division b-sides. B-side to "Love Will Tear Us Apart?" "These Days!" "Transmission?" "Novelty!" "Atmosphere?" "Dead Souls" on Licht und Blindheit, "She's Lost Control" otherwise. "Komachino?" "Incubation" and "As You Said!" The 2009 rerelease of "Love Will Tear Us Apart?" "Transmission," thus making for one of the finest a-side/b-side combos in history! Aw man, I'm goin' down to the local pub and using this knowledge to get shitfaced.
Also, fuck Fall Out Boy and their generic whiny emo cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
Track picks: "Transmission," "Dead Souls," "Atmosphere," "Love Will Tear Us Apart"