When Ian Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself in the kitchen of his ex-wife's home in 1980, he left behind a masterfully talented band and only two legitimate studio albums (if one ignores the aborted first attempt "ruined" by an overzealous engineer and some synthesizers). As with other influential acts, the subsequent years have been filled with releases of miscellaneous records, bootlegs, posthumous videos, and other collections. Two recorded performances of note were Joy Division's appearances on the John Peel show in January and November 1979. These sessions were issued later as two four-song EPs on the Strange Fruit label. In 2000, the BBC released several of its recordings to the Fuel 2000 label, including everything on tape by Joy Division; hence the name of this collection -- The Complete BBC Recordings.
Both Peel Sessions EPs are here, as well as two songs performed live on the Something Else television show on September 1, 1979. The Something Else recording is significant -- it is some of the band's most heavily bootlegged material, featuring Curtis performing in full glory. A three-minute interview of Curtis and Stephen Morris with Richard Skinner on BBC Radio 1 is also included, providing a valuable look at the human side of one-half of the band. Surprisingly enough, Curtis and Morris come across as quite cheerful fellows despite the dark songs they produced. Jokes are even cracked about Gary Numan's then-recent comments about "machine rock" being the wave of the future, and Joy Division's shrugging off of that title. Of course, after Curtis' death, the remaining band members formed New Order, a group known for its synthesizer-laden dance-pop sound. Funny how that turned out.
The recorded performances themselves are of exceptional quality, and the two extra songs help dispel the myth that Joy Division wasn't particularly good in a live setting. The second versions of "Transmission" and "She's Lost Control" even take on a much more aggressive quality than what was originally put to tape. The production of the drums alone reveals a difference from Martin Hannett's methods; instead of the cold beating of the studio albums, a thicker, slightly more distorted impact exists. Curtis' vocals alternate between the "very bored Brit" style that Stephin Merritt would later perfect and a style much more feisty and energetic than Curtis had been known for. The Complete BBC Recordings is a fine collection of Joy Division's broadcast performances, especially for the band's fans who do not want to hunt down the Strange Fruit releases.