Being the record by which I discovered Joy Division (and possibly because of that fact) it is still my favourite. I didn't know it at the time, but it's a fairly random collection of studio out-takes from the band's three-year history (the original first vinyl disc) and a live recording of the band's final concert at Birmingham University in May 1980 (the original second vinyl disc). To further confuse the issue, the original CD release, while almost identical, inexplicably omitted "24 Hours" from the live set altogether (it having been omitted from the track listing of the vinyl only, showing up as a sort of anticipation of the DVD Easter Egg on the actual record). Weird: it was by no means the worst quality track on the set (several others suffered, either from poor mixing (Ceremony), synthesiser meltdown (Isolation and Decades) or guitarist correct-chord meltdown (Bernard misses a doozy in the intro to New Dawn Fades)).
And if that were not random enough, this remaster includes another live set, from High Wycombe Town Hall (yes, that legendary Rock 'n' Roll venue - it's almost Tapular, isn't it) in February 1980 plus some material from the soundcheck!
For all that, the (original) record hangs together coherently - the outtakes pace themselves nicely from the creepy foghorns and droning basslines of Exercise One through the near-punk workouts (Ice Age, Walked in Line) to the desolate, stately majesty of classic tracks like The Only Mistake and Dead Souls which represent high-Mannerist Joy Division, the only jolt being, from nowhere, an unexpected live cover of the Velvets' Sister Ray at the end of (original vinyl) disc two.
I love Still, but the cognoscenti don't seem to. Even the liner notes accompanying this new release describe Still as "above all the expression of weakness in the Joy Division sequence of releases" (what on earth were the marketing guys thinking?), but that's extraordinarily harsh, to the point of being plain old horse-manure. Yes Still may represent an un-chaperoned wander through the band's unreleased catalogue, and sure, there are no radio singles here (but then, nor are there on Unknown Pleasures or Closer: Joy Division *never* released radio singles on studio albums) but there are certainly standout tracks, and as (ahem) a *closer* (noun) - that is, a summation of what Joy Division were about, a precis, plus a snapshot of where they ended up - I can't think of how else one might have done it, without ripping off the fans by recycling material already available.
I have heard people complain bitterly about the quality of the Birmingham live set, but for my money it's a banker in every respect. There's more bottom end than usual in Peter Hook's bass and Steve Morris' drums, Bernard's guitar is rich and full, and Ian Curtis's vocals are superb (when audible - there are a couple of occasions where the mixer has a melting moment and forgets to push the faders up). I've heard several other Joy Division live sets, and the Still set is easily the most assured performance, and the cleanest recording. The crowd is on fire. Added to that is the frisson derived from the fact that this really was THE last time Joy Division ever performed as Joy Division, and Ian Curtis ever performed at all. Great gig to go out on. A historical performance.
The High Wycombe gig - I suppose thrown on to persuade mugs like me to acquire yet another copy of the same record (I now have four) is interesting artefact, but not much more: The band is certainly tight, and the performance sounds a lot closer to - well, Closer - although I found the distant, icy arrangements on that album a little *too* spartan, and the recording quality isn't a patch on the Birmingham gig. Love Will Tear Us Apart is surprisingly faithfully executed - after three years and some 120 gigs, Joy Division had turned themselves into tight musicians - but the crowd's reaction to the songs: polite, but clearly appreciative applause - sounds more like an audience than a moshpit. Perhaps the High Wycombe Mayor was on hand to keep an eye on the Kids, it being the Town Hall and all.
Lastly, credit to Factory, who have maintained the Peter Saville feel of the original album, and which I now own in four versions, including, I'm proud to say, an original pressing vinyl with the Hessian sleeve ... and the missing Twenty Four Hours!