It’s been a funny old decade or so for Peter Hook. Newly sober, he found himself pushed (or did he jump?) from New Order, the group he launched from the ashes of Joy Division with the remaining members, and he also became an accomplished author. He’s also spent the last handful of years revisiting the early material of those two bands with his new outfit The Light.
Given the stature of Joy Division and New Order, it was a bold decision to revisit this material, one that Hooky will no doubt have wrestled with, but one suspects that the opportunity to put one over on his former bandmates was too delicious to pass up. You have to give the guy credit: Bernard Sumner can confidently knock out these sacred tunes to packed festival crowds, he retained the lion’s share of both group’s ranks after all, but Hooky had the balls to assume the unfamiliar guise of vocalist and take it to club level. While New Order increasingly feel half arsed, Peter Hook & The Light reek of hard work, and although it’s often laborious, it generally pays off.
For the staunch old school fan the decision to tour these albums in their entirety, complete with period B-sides and obscurities, was a wet dream, a chance to have a few drinks and relive the era with an original member. It is a curious decision, however, to release the audio of these shows, one which raises suspicion of pension fattening (the Hacienda fiasco sucked all involved dry). The question being, who is going to buy these recordings? Sure, if you attended a show it’ll be a nice memento. But then aren’t fans just going to play the original LP’s, and not warts and all live retreads some three and a half decades on?
Quibbles aside, what we’re left with is the music, and when you’re talking about sacred cows like Joy Division and New Order it’s pretty much beyond criticism. The delivery is what its all about, and Peter Hook & the Light make a good fist of it. Each recording covers a particular album: choose between Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Closer, or New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies. You get a smattering of odds and sods before each full album performance, and a handful of classics at the end. It’s a great way to present the combined works of these bands. As you can imagine there are a few duplications across the discs, but realistically are you ever going to get tired of hearing “Love Will Tear Us Apart”? And hearing lesser known gems like “No Love Lost” more than once isn’t going to upset you.
Pick of the bunch is the Closer set from Manchester. Hooky is far more natural at singing Joy Division songs than Barney, they’re more in his range. You also get the impression he’s not taken this whole thing lightly, he sounds like he’s worked hard to embody Ian Curtis’s existential lyrics. The songs on Closer are a lot more playful than those of Unknown Pleasures, and the members of The Light seem to relish playing these more than any of the other albums.
“Atrocity Exhibition” and “Heart and Soul” stand out, with the encore of “Transmission” adding real bite. Elsewhere the Unknown Pleasures set is well played, “Dead Souls” and “Digital” are well judged additions to the mammoth set, adding enough light to the darkness of the parent album. The New Order shows are patchier, more down to the material than The Light. Movement is a Joy Division album in all but name, but it’s an oddly paced affair. Power Corruption and Lies is more suited to live interpretation though, and with added “Blue Monday”, “True Faith”, and “Temptation” the band ensure no-one goes home disappointed.
There are a few moments of frustration. “Atmosphere” from the Closer set is woeful, as is “She’s Lost Control” from the Movement show. Also, I appreciate that each gig is represented in full, but could they have not edited out the endless minutes of crowd cheering before encores? There is charm in experiencing the whole concert, but on repeat listening it quickly becomes tiresome.
Ultimately, Hooky has delivered four classic albums across four shows, playing material unheard in a lifetime. You can’t knock him, or his very able band, for keeping the flame alive. These recordings stand as testament to the man. I mean, how many people get to be in one genre defining band, let alone two? I’d recommend catching Peter Hook & The Light if they come to your town, but in the comfort of your own home I’d suggest you dig out your original vinyl, sit down in your favourite armchair, and crank the stereo.
Closer – Live in Manchester, Movement – Live in Dublin, Power Corruption and Lies – Live in Dublin, and Unknown Pleasures – Live in Leeds are out now