Certain Songs #823: Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Single, 1980

From the outside, the spring of 1980 should have been a great great time for Ian Curtis.

At least, from the artistic standpoint, right? After all, Joy Division were about to unleash the follow-up to Unknown Pleasures upon the world, not to mention that they had two more killer singles — this song and “Atmosphere” — already in the can, and on top of all of that, they had written “Ceremony,” so clearly, they were just getting going. The future was totally theirs.

But instead, on May 18, 1980, love tore Ian Curtis apart once and for all, a scant two weeks before the world heard what will no doubt be his most-lasting artistic achievement.

When routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow
And we’re changing our ways
Taking different roads

Love, love will tear it apart again
Love, love will tear it apart again

It’s hard to overstate just how important this song is to “alternative,” “indie” or whatever you want to call it music. It was an instant hit in the U.K., of course, but it definitely became a foundational song of college radio and eventually popular culture, utterly inescapable to the point where maybe the edge has been dulled.

Why is the bedroom so cold?
Turned away on your side
Is my timing that flawed?
Our respect run so dry?
Yet there’s still this appeal
That we’ve kept through our lives

Love, love will tear it apart again
Love, love will tear it apart again

Musically, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” belongs to Peter Hook, who plays the chorus melody during the verses and then lays off during the choruses so that Curtis can sing it while Bernard Sumner’s keyboards waft gently in the background.

But with the mix of electric guitars & synth, the upbeat dance rhythms that built and built without ever quite crescendoing, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” sounded nothing like either Unknown Pleasures or Closer, definitely pointing the way for New Order to the point where one wonders if the tension between the upbeat music and downbeat words would have eventually torn them apart anyways.

It’s hard imagining Ian Curtis writing words that would have fit in with the music of “Temptation.” But I would have loved to hear what that might have sounded like . . .

Official video for “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

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