Still is a grab bag, an odds ‘n’ sods collection for Joy Division completists that is easy to fault for what it is not: Next to the band’s studio albums, efforts they curated with the utmost care, it feels like a bunt. But of course it would, you say. It’s Factory Records cleaning up, rummaging the vaults after Ian Curtis, the lyricist/vocalist, decided to go and die on them. The fucker!
Of the erratic live tracks assembled, only two are keepers (“Sister Ray,” which is goofy, and “Ceremony,” which is breathtaking). The other live songs pale beside their studio-based counterparts. United by Martin Hannett’s production, which crystallized the band’s sound (brittle, dense, danceable, industrial), the studio tracks here vary in quality. Some of them could be leftovers from the band’s earliest days, when they went as Warsaw. Others feel like sketches for the standouts they never became. In the top tier, then, we have just “The Only Mistake” (a rich look at guilt) and the groovy, almost funny “Dead Souls.”
So, Still lacks a satisfying arc, and it smacks of desperation, as though Factory had scurried around to cash in on what few JD songs were left in the can, overlooking (or deliberately sitting on) tracks that in 1981 had yet to find a home on an LP. Somewhere between Still, Substance (1988), and Permanent (1995) is a useful, chronological overview of the band as it meant to present itself to the world at large—and it appears as though the Heart and Soul box set (1997) is it for now.1
1Spotify and YouTube render the point moot. In this digital, streamable age, a record like Still is simply that—a record. Anyone can go online and cull the cream without having to invest in it.