Between movies (the biopic Control and Grant Gee’s 2007 Joy Division documentary), tours by Peter Hook & The Light, a new New Order album (Music Complete), and books (Hook’s Unknown Pleasures and now Bernard Sumner’s Chapter and Verse: New Order, Joy Division, and Me), there has been no shortage of material to keep a Joy Division/New Order fan satiated. Indeed, it’s been a surprisingly active decade considering New Order was supposedly defunct not that long ago.
With Hook and Sumner famously at loggerheads even when they were bandmates, Chapter and Verse is naturally perceived in opposition to Unknown Pleasures and Hook’s forthcoming New Order memoir. But it doesn’t seem like Sumner perceives it that way. “I’ve realized that I owe people a look behind the scenes of my own story,” he states in the book’s preface. “Because I don’t think anyone can have a true understanding of the music without an insight into where it came from.” And while he does address the conflict between him and his bass-playing associate—particularly the incidents leading up to Hook’s exodus from New Order—he largely sticks to recounting his life story seemingly without an agenda.
And that life story is generally a compelling one, particularly his challenging childhood being brought up by a single mother with cerebral palsy and his grandparents in an impoverished neighborhood in Manchester. Eventually he met Hook, and with Stephen Morris and Ian Curtis, formed the ultimately doomed Joy Division. Of course, New Order followed after Joy Division’s demise and it is those years that form the bulk of the book. During that time, New Order helped finance the world famous Hacienda dance club and Sumner teamed up with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr for the Electronic side project. In there as well are bouts with depression and drugs, and Sumner’s refections on the deaths of Curtis, Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, who first signed Joy Division, and manager Rob Gretton. In fact, it is such pondering that is the most revealing.
Throughout the book, Sumner’s tone is conversational, and he tells his story as if he’s spinning a barroom yarn. But while his voice is personable, aside from the instances mentioned above, Sumner never goes too deep below the surface. In particular, he spends little time reflecting on the impetuses behind New Order’s creative peak in the mid and late ’80s. Sure, he tells how they were inspired by the music they heard in the clubs of New York and how the discovery of samplers and drum machines influenced the direction their music took, but as far as conveying the “true understanding of the music” promised in the preface, he falls short. No doubt self-analysis is the toughest of tasks for anyone, but I would have liked to learn more about what went into creating his most enduring work (i.e. Low-Life and Power, Corruption & Lies). Ultimately, most of Sumner’s fans will remain unchanged after reading Chapter and Verse, gaining some knowledge of his childhood but little more understanding of the ideas and emotions that have been at the heart of so much incredible music.