Compare and Contrast #4: Love Will Tear Us Apart

It’s been a while since I last did one of these compare and contrast segments, but I know it’s time to bring it back. Today, we’re comparing and contrasting one of my favorite songs of all time by one of my favorite bands of all time. The band? Joy Division. The song? Love Will Tear Us Apart.

A little bit about the tune (as yanked from Wikipedia): It was written by Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis between the summer and fall of 1979 and debuted at a show with the Buzzcocks shortly thereafter. It’s said to have been a play on the name of another popular song of the time, Love Will Keep Us Together (Captain & Tenille), and to have come from the depths of Curtis’ crumbling marriage. Sadly, just one month after the release of the song, Ian Curtis hung himself, committing suicide in May of 1980 at the age of 23. It became the band’s first real chart hit, reaching the #13 spot – something Curtis would never get to find out.

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I first heard this song, but I do know that it was one of those songs that just hit me immediately. For the longest time, it became one of my favorite songs to dance to. A 15-year-old version of myself would blast this in her bedroom and dance around in her PJs, arms flailing about. The music itself is easy to lose yourself in and the beat is much too cheerful for what the song is about, but somehow it all works.

It’s only when you read the words that you begin to understand what Curtis must have been feeling at the time when he wrote it. The lyrics knock you out with the brutal truth that hits everyone that’s ever been in a failed relationship. When routine bites hard, and ambitions are low. And resentment runs high, and emotions won’t grow. Curtis doesn’t get overly poetic with this piece. There’s nothing there that is difficult for anyone to understand. There are no hidden meanings, nothing to dig for. He’s describing, word for word, what it’s like to have loved someone, to still care for them, and to be completely and hopelessly stuck. Or perhaps to still love them in some way, but then there’s that point that is so frequently reached, when it’s faded from your significant others’ eyes, when you can tell they’ve just stopped trying, when you both go to bed exhausted from fighting, exhausted from crying, exhausted from ignoring each other, exhausted from being alive. The song is sad. The words are sad. But in their sadness, there’s a bewildering bravery to be found. Externalizing those kinds of emotions must have been terrifying.

The song means many different things to me nowadays. After going through a number of breakups and heartaches, I still sometimes ask myself the same question Curtis does in the song: Why is it something so good just can’t function no more? It’s the kind of question we always ask ourselves when we’re reaching the end of something we were convinced would go on forever, or at least for a long while. It’s a question that no one will ever have a real answer to, but at least we have this song:



And now, for the covers…

Here’s a little bossa nova style cover of the tune by Nouvelle Vague. It brings a new whimsy to the song that you wouldn’t really guess could happen with such a dark piece. You can hear what sounds like the waves crashing and happy beach goers very faintly in the background. It’s the first (and probably only) time i’ve ever wanted to hear this song while sipping a daiquiri.


The Jose Gonzalez cover is simply guitar and vocals. It’s beautiful and I feel it stays true to the original sentiment of the song. There’s no getting fancy here, and that’s a good thing.


Simple Minds (of Breakfast Club anthem “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” fame) created this extra dance-y cover of the song. While it loses the original intent of the song, it still holds holds its own. I’ll let you decide.


This last cover is by the band Broken Social Scene, and they’ve truly made the song their own. It’s got a whole new, different kind of desperation about it. Slow, rough around the edges, like a bad hangover after a worse breakup. This one almost hits too close to home.


Have you heard any other covers of this great song you’d like to share? Which covers do you feel worked better than others? Should the song have just been left alone out of respect for Curtis? Let me know what you think! For now, keep enjoying the music.


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