Yesterday, a friend of mine texted that he’d watched the film “The Crow” for the first time, and really enjoyed the soundtrack. He singled out a couple of tracks, one of which pertains to today’s posting. It’s an alternative post-punk goth classic titled “Dead Souls,” originally recorded by Joy Division in 1981, then covered by Nine Inch Nails in 1994 for the aforementioned film.
Let’s start with Joy Division … you might recognize this late-’70s English fourpiece as the origin of longtime electronic rock outfit New Order. They only released a couple of albums. And they ended suddenly and tragically, with the suicide of frontman Ian Curtis. That was the eve of their first American tour, back in 1980, and it’s the event many longtime fans associate with their music.
But Joy Division are so much more. They arrived on the cusp of a paradigm shift. Punk was wrapping up. New wave and alternative were just getting started. There was a void that needed filling, and they just intuitively knew how to bridge that gap. Joy Division’s music is simple and stark, yet filled with raw emotion and sharp jagged melodies, all of which would eventually lay the groundwork for future genres, such as post-punk and goth.
At the time, “Dead Souls” wasn’t considered a classic. In fact, it didn’t really see the light of day until 1981, a year after Curtis’ death, with its inclusion on the rarities and live track compilation “Still.” But looking back, it’s clear why Trent Reznor would choose to cover it with Nine Inch Nails. It’s darkly atmospheric, not quite a dirge, nor a noisy rock rhythm.
In no small part, this is thanks to the trio that would eventually form New Order … Peter Hook, who’s skillful bassline provides a propulsive momentum, complemented by Stephen Morris, delivering a spacious percussive bed, and Bernard Sumner, injecting an urgent melody with his guitar-craft. Add in Curtis’deep-cut baritone vocals, and “Dead Souls” skirts an uneasy yet captivating edge.
Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” from the 1981 album “Still.”
As previously mentioned, Joy Division’s remaining members moved forward, forming the seminal electronic rock act New Order. I always hear ongoing debates on the merits of what followed – i.e. Joy Division fans loving or hating New Order. It’s never the other way around, though. I happen to love New Order. They’re different, have their own highs and lows, but I’m okay with that. And most importantly, Joy Division will always be there, should I need them.
Somewhere between 2007-2009, Peter Hook eventually left New Order over creative differences, which was an immense bummer. His basslines are so synonymous with the New Order sound. But his departure did offer a silver lining. He formed his own band, Peter Hook & the Light, featuring his son Jack Bates on bass, as well as members from a previous side project Monaco. Hook then shifted his focus to recreating the Joy Division live experience, performing their two albums “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer” in their entirety, as well as a number of other rarities.
If you were lucky enough to catch one of these performances, they were incredible … rough around the edges, a little loose and messy, yet filled with the same raw hooks and power you’d always imagined these tracks possessed in the live forum. Curiously, Hook hasn’t received much recognition as a vocalist. But his gruff delivery is exceptionally well-suited, channeling the spirit and energy of Curtis’ lyrics.
Below is a sampling, with Peter Hook & the Light performing “Dead Souls” at the Wiltern back in in 2016.
Peter Hook & the Light perform Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” @ the Wiltern on 09.24.16
Now that I’ve covered some backstory, and believe me, I’ve only touched on it, let’s move onto Nine Inch Nails’ cover version that appeared in the 1994 film “The Crow.”
For those unfamiliar, “The Crow” is based on James O’Barrs’ graphic novel of supernatural revenge. It’s directed by Alex Proyas, who crafted one of my favorite 90s’ motion pictures, the sci-fi noir “Dark City.” It also carries a shade of infamy, due to the accidental death of star (and son of Bruce) Brandon Lee, when a defective blank wounded him on-set, during the filming of a critical action scene.
Nine Inch Nails’ recorded their version of “Dead Souls” the same year their defining album “The Downward Spiral” was released. It didn’t appear on that release, until later reissues, which is fine. It doesn’t really belong there, as that particular LP is perfect as is. That’s not to take away from NIN’s interpretation of “Dead Souls,” which is faithful, for the most part. It’s a little slicker, slightly slower, yet heightened with NIN’s signature textured fourishes. The spatial percussion holds more prominence, as does the driving bassline. The guitars are wielded with a stronger degree of controlled chaos. And Trent’s vocals remain both spoken in softened subtlety and screamed in white noise distortion.
It’s placement in the film is also appropriate, featured prominently and symbolically in a scene of angst, duality, and rebirth, along with lots of rooftop running. As an interesting piece of trivia, New Order was approached to record another Joy Division track “Love Will Tear Us Apart” for the film. But due to scheduling conflicts, NIN stepped in with this sanctioned cover instead. Rumor has it, Peter Hook found Trent’s interpretation to his liking. Also, NIN was supposed to perform in the film. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult ultimately took that spot for reasons only the film gods know.
Unfortunately, of the two shows I attended for Nine Inch Nails’ “Cold and Black and Infinite” tour, they didn’t perform “Dead Souls.” But it did show up throughout the tour’s setlists. Hence, I do not have my own recording of its live performance. So this Spotify embed will have to do. I’m sure there’s plenty of iPhone-shot clips out there on YouTube. But when it comes to concert bootlegs, I like to use my own. If it’s professionally shot, that’s another story. Maybe next time.
Here’s Nine Inch Nails cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls.”
Nine Inch Nails’ cover of “Dead Souls” from the 1994 soundtrack to “The Crow.”
Peter Hook & the Light:
Nine Inch Nails: