52 Albums That Changed My Life (and Other Exaggerations) Chapter 5: Substance

I am a nerd in a great many things. I love comics, I love film, I love to read fantasy and science fiction. In high school, I was no different. My lunch hours were spent quickly eating followed up by playing tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, Rifts and a host of supernatural themed games from a company called White Wolf.

The things that drew me to the White Wolf games were two-fold. One, girls didn’t seem to mind these particular roleplaying games, in particular, Vampire: The Masquerade. Never underestimate how the importance of hooking up when it comes to the thought process of teenage males. Two, the games were mainly set in a current day setting and seemed more in touch with younger players like myself. There would be quotes from movies and songs starting chapters of the various rule books.

A popular artist choice for these quotes was Joy Division.

While I can’t be positive, I feel that my first exposure to Joy Division was one of these RPG rule books thus proving that you can really find music anywhere. The second exposure was definitely an episode of Ongoing History of New Music. I can’t recall directly what the episode was on but I know it featured “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.

And that song just hit me in the brain like a hammer.

Ian Curtis’s voice just seemed to echo in my ears. Curtis was in that weird class of singer where you know that technically, he isn’t anything special but in that mystical cross section between vocals and lyrics, there was just something so amazing about it.

Something similar could be said about the song itself. I don’t think anyone from Joy Division would ever end up on any of those “Best [INSERT INSTRUMENT HERE] Ever” lists that go around every year but there was something about how they played on that. The fact that bass and keyboards were the lead instruments and the configuration seemed so different than the music I had been listening to.

I needed this song and Joy Division in my life. But the question at that time was “What album should I get?”

Jeremy, a friend all through elementary and high school, got the Closer album and while I liked it, it did not have “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Neither did an album called Unknown Pleasures. I finally settled on what I assumed was a greatest hits collection called Substance. I bought it from HMV at the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, Ontario. I got home, went to my room and put the CD on and laid back on my bed to let the music wash over me.

With the first track of the album, I thought I had either purchased the wrong album or I had made a mistake about my feelings on the band. With song one, I didn’t get some goth masterpiece or longing or love. What I got was a crappy punk song.

Maybe the second track would be better.

It was but only marginally so.

I was confused. I had heard “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, I had borrowed Closer off Jeremy, none of that sound like this. What the hell had I bought?

As I would discover later (keep in mind, I didn’t really have much access to the internet at that point), Substance wasn’t a greatest hits cd, it was a collection of singles. Substance encompassed the band’s entire career including their early days as a punk band.

Luckily, by track three, “Digital”, it was sounding more like the band I wanted. Track four, “Autosuggestion” completely cemented the fact that I had bought the right album. I even grew to embrace the punk tracks at the beginning a bit more.

The album would later go on to be a favorite during late night collectible card game battles. It (along with a few other choice albums) was the soundtrack to many a swear-filled battle of various vampire clans as our cards fought with machine guns and chainsaws and oddly, it was those game nights that would help further my love of those albums, including Substance.

I would go on to by Unknown Pleasures at least three times and Closer twice (those copies were victims of being lent to people that would disappear from my life and not return). Joy Division also gave you a bit of music nerd cache. “You’ve heard “Love Will Tear Us Apart”? But have you heard their early punk stuff?” I know, I know, it sounds a little douchey in retrospect but as a teenager, you’re looking for anything to stand out and in my case, anything to stand out to the opposite sex.

Little did I know that most of the girls I was interested in high school didn’t care for my expertise in Joy Division or comics. Now, when I got a bit older, it came off as an interesting personality trait but in high school, it was just weird.

As a newcomer to Joy Division, Substance is a really good starter kit. If you only knew one song, like I did, it gave you a complete overview of the band’s musical career from start to finish. From punk roots to their last single, you get to hear a taste of all sides of Joy Division. But if you do have a little bit more or a working knowledge of the band, the best bet for your money is the Heart and Soul. It contains the two original studio albums, outtakes, singles and a disc of live stuff. For a band that wasn’t around long, this is the best and most complete package. But if you just want a sampling of everything, Substance isn’t a bad start.

Speaking of girls, next week I talk about my first real girlfriend and a musical feud that we were on opposite sides of.

Brent Chittenden

Brent Chittenden is a freelance writer with a gift for the geek. Currently a writer with A Journal Of Musical Things and a podcaster with True North Nerds, he's also written for Comic Book Daily, Explore Music and a dozen other places. Currently, he is the co-host of the True North Nerds podcast. You can find out more at www.facebook.com/bcchittenden

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