07 November 2009
Paul Young's Love Will Tear Us Apart
...is (deep breath) still my favourite version of the song. Not only do I have the same confession as Liz (though why we feel the need to confess, I'm still working on); that Paul Young's version was the first I heard but also that when I heard the Joy Division version a few years later I thought it was a ropey Paul Young cover - and in fact, that's how I still see things now.
When No Parlez came out I was perhaps 11 or 12 and Love Will Tear Us Apart played a significant part in an early on-off relationship I had with a spectacularly endowed (for 12) girl who perhaps I ought to have been better off being mates with. The cruelty and despair of love wasn't really available to me then, I didn't understand yet how much of a gut-kicking emotion it could be but this song seemed to hint at other ways that love could take you; darker ways, paths only hinted at by my understanding of girls and passion and so on at that time.
There was a darkness here, a love that pulled you under, a love that could tear you apart.
This was all intensified by Paul Young. He had a clear, untainted voice and paired with these dark mysterious lyrical images, I can remember being very unsettled, an unusual feeling when mostly I was listening to stuff like Wham! or The Style Council or maybe at the indie top end The Jam (who, anyway, I liked for the same reason as I liked The Specials - you could dance to them without looking like a twat in School Disco's - the interest in social commentary came later).
When I hear Ian Curtis singing it, or later Michael Gira or Robert Smith or Nick Cave or whoever, they seemed to miss the point of the song; it didn't work for me coming from those kinds of mewled, blank, seen-it-all faces, the song couldn't be captured by people who already knew these paths. It was a dark light that Paul and me and her were discovering for ourselves.
I can remember me and her playing this in her bedroom and the feeling that somehow this was a wormhole into new, undiscovered, country was almost unbearable. It used to make her cry and it confused the hell out of me why she'd want to keep playing it. This was pre-sex, pre-understanding. I wasn't sure how things could ever turn out between a man and a woman, much less a girl and a boy who only a few before had been happily rolling in fields with no lingering sexual tension, no real understanding of gender at all...
This song, sung by Paul Young caught a frozen moment in our adolescence and meant that no songs would be the same again. I can still feel this song and no matter what anyone says: the Joy Division version is a lost and ropey cover.