From the first moment that Nine Inch Nails made their arrival in 1989, the influence of Joy Division on their sound and their aesthetic was something that the group never even attempted to hide. Since then, they have continued to show their love for everything Joy Division and these covers of ‘Digital’, ‘Dead Souls’, and ‘Atmosphere’ are a grand way to pay homage to their forefathers.
For the band’s debut single, ‘Down In It’, the cover art was achingly similar to that of Unknown Pleasures and provided a slight nod and a wink to Joy Division straight from the beginning of their career. Since that point, Trent Reznor has littered covers of Joy Division in their live-sets over the decades, and the similarities between his haunting vocal style and that of Ian Curtis are stark.
‘Dead Souls’ is a Joy Division track that is the most intrinsically linked to Reznor after he created a devastatingly striking cover of it for the 1994 comic book adaptation, The Crow. Reznor is no fairweather Joy Division fan, and he confirmed this by going for an obscure track with ‘Dead Souls’ originally released as the B-side for ‘Licht und Blindheit’.
Nine Inch Nails have routinely returned to covering ‘Dead Souls’ throughout their career, and the version below from the LA Palladium in 2018 is an utter delight that would even get the seal of approval from the late, hard-to-impress, Ian Curtis.
The influence of Curtis, especially in the early days of Nine Inch Nails, is impossible to avoid. As a tormented young artist, Reznor instantly resonated with the singer’s pain in his work, making him feel less alone. Even though they were from opposite sides of the Atlantic, they both went through the same difficult struggles, and music was their shared source of solace. Joy Division’s taboo-breaking lyrics helped smash the glass door down, allowing bands like Nine Inch Nails to flourish.
Speaking about his mental health struggles on Netflix’s Song Exploder, Reznor said: “What I was going through when I was writing, The Downward Spiral, was not knowing who I was anymore. I’d seen myself as the kid in the bedroom listening to records, and I wasn’t sure who the guy on stage was. That was becoming distorted and becoming accentuated and a caricature of itself, I think.
“Add that to someone ill-equipped to deal with attention or fame. I’ve always had a sadness and a sense of abandonment haunting me, and I never feel like I fit in anywhere. Always feeling like an outsider, it’s not rational, but it just happens often. Maybe I’m the guy who needs a couple of beers or whatever it might be to understand who I am,” Reznor mused about his headspace at that time.
Fortunately, Reznor managed to get through his battles and come out of it at the other side, unlike Curtis. There was something that resonated profoundly with the Nine Inch Nails frontman about Joy Division that transcended music, and he’s helped keep the spirit of Curtis alive, passing on to a brand new generation. It’s impossible not to believe every word that Reznor sings in the hat-trick of staggering Joy Division covers and feels like he’s written them himself.