A reticent British rock star opens up—a little.
The transformation of Joy Division, an influential cult band, into New Order, a phenomenally popular institution, is one of the most intriguing success stories in all of rock. With the 1980 suicide of frontman Ian Curtis, Joy Division had appeared to be over. Yet the remaining three members stayed together and changed their name and musical direction. Since then, they sustained a level of accomplishment and fan loyalty that transcends generations and that is beyond the expectations of its members. No one is better positioned to tell this story than Sumner, the guitarist who shifted sideways into Curtis’ role as singer and who became the primary motivator in the shift into the electronic dance music that has made New Order a popular mainstay. Yet Sumner has never attracted the cult of personality that Curtis did, and he has been reluctant to reveal much of himself, even after his boyhood friend and longtime band mate Peter Hook left the group, charging Sumner with taking too much control and the other musicians with simply following the leader’s orders. “I’ve gone into great detail here in order to set the record straight,” writes Sumner, though Hook has a different story (see his 2013 book Unknown Pleasures), as even Sumner’s account finds him taking more responsibility for the musical creation and direction, and the other members of New Order rarely seem more than bit players. The author’s family life as an adult receives even less mention, except for an occasional reference to his children. But he’s particularly good on his own Dickensian childhood, raised by parents who suffered from severe health issues. As for the tonal shift in New Order, he writes, “our music had become so incredibly dark and cold, we really couldn’t get any darker or colder.” Thus the band that had prided itself on its homegrown musical direction was increasingly in the thrall of club beats.
Given the author's previous reticence, fans of both bands will find this memoir revelatory.