Though Peter Hook wasn’t the lead singer in Joy Division or New Order, the bands he’s best known for, he was undoubtedly the most vocal personality in both. So it’s surprising that the outspoken, no-bullshit bassist wrote a book about his time in Joy Division—1976 to 1980—that largely feels tame. There are compelling things about Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, but Hook deflates the story of a band whose legend has grown into dark, depressive myth, turning it into the story of four Manchester lads who liked punk rock, practical jokes, and fighting. Perhaps that was Hook’s intention, to demystify the group—and particularly singer Ian Curtis, who ensured his own dark legacy by hanging himself on the eve of the band’s first American tour.
From a musical-history perspective, there’s plenty to gnaw on in Unknown Pleasures, which is named after Joy Division’s first album: Hook and his bandmates were present at the legendary Sex Pistols shows in Manchester, and took that ethos into new, exciting directions at the same time and place as a dozen other time-tested bands. But his book sometimes reads like the rosy recollections of somebody’s grandpa—the type of grandpa who clearly has great stories, but for some reason focuses on minutiae that probably won’t matter to diehards or casual fans. For instance, Hook goes on at length, in various parts of the book, about practical jokes Joy Division played on other bands, recalling with gleeful detail the time he grossed out the members of the Buzzcocks with maggots. He clearly takes pleasure in those stories; at 55, maybe they seem more crucial than his feelings about the music he made. (They aren’t.)
If he spent more time actually talking about that music, Unknown Pleasures would feel more balanced. The passages where Hook details the recording of the Unknown Pleasures album are fantastic and insightful, with minute-by-minute details on the genius of Ian Curtis and producer Martin Hannett. Hook has few kind words for guitarist/rival Bernard Sumner, but he isn’t that harsh, either: They’re bitterly feuding today, but the most vitriol he can summon for Sumner is to make fun of him for always having a sleeping bag on hand, and for not appreciating Hook’s thuggish ways. (Hook refers to himself as a “yobbo” on several occasions, which is sort of fantastic.)
But ultimately, Hook meanders too much, and the book frequently reads as if it was dictated, then assembled in roughly chronological order. Entire sections are devoted to Joy Division set lists, annotated by halfhearted remembrances—or worse, no remembrances at all. When he gets on a funny streak about the band itself, Hook is worth the time: “Not that I’d change anything, mind you. I’d stop Ian from killing himself, obviously. But otherwise I really wouldn’t change anything.” And the book itself is gorgeous, its cover mimicking the iconic Unknown Pleasures album artwork, complete with a dyed-black spine. It’s just a shame Hook couldn’t find more focus: He was part of two hugely important groups, and he indicates throughout that he’s aware of that. If he had only taken this task a bit more seriously, it could’ve been brilliant. Perhaps that’s against the yobbo’s code.