I’d hardly be the first to observe that “Ceremony” is THE emblematic song of Joy Division’s sometimes shaky transition to New Order after the suicide of JD singer Ian Curtis. It was a JD song that, tragically, was never properly recorded during the singer’s lifetime; only the live version on Still—from which half the vocals are absent—and a really crummy rehearsal tape are known to have survived, but the song became New Order’s first single.
While that single is imperfect, it preserves a magnificent song that could have ended up lost. The instrumental performances and production are excellent, but vocals were handled by guitarist Bernard Sumner, who’d go on to become the band’s main singer. His tentative, mannered, flat-affect singing style was a good fit for NO’s later work, but his rookie effort couldn’t approach Ian Curtis’ expressive depth, and so lines like “I’ll break them all/No mercy shown” land weightlessly. The song’s excellence still being amply evident, it went on to become one of the most-covered songs the band ever released, and it’s a badge for their determination to persevere in the face of tragedy, however wobbly their very public march towards their own post-Curtis identity was.
In recent years, estranged from his former New Order bandmates, JD/NO’s Peter Hook, the architect of a post-punk bass style so singular and genre-defining it’s still being copied 40 years later, has eschewed original music for a while to devote himself to the project of reanimating his bands’ earliest works. He formed Peter Hook and the Light with members purloined from his prior band Monaco, and they’ve spent the last several years producing concerts in which they’ll play an early JD or NO album in its entirety. They’re currently on tour performing both bands’ ‘80s best-of compilations, both titled Substance.