Joy Division: Closer (1980)

On the occasion of its 40th anniversary, Mojo has an excellent piece on the recording of Joy Division's second and final proper studio LP, released posthumously in the wake of singer Ian Curtis' suicide.  (No online link, but worth chasing the article down.)  Interestingly, the band apparently hated the album when they first heard what producer Martin Hannett had done with it, which seems nuts, as this thing is a monster.

I'll admit that I often overlook Closer, as their debut, Unknown Pleasures, is so fantastic and timeless that when the Joy Division mood strikes me, it's hard to look past it.  Nonetheless, song for song, Closer is probably every bit as great.

It took me a bit longer to get into this, largely because the opening track, "Atrocity Exhibition," is singularly cacophonous and challenging.  But once you get past it (and it's not bad, just a little difficult), the music is insanely great.

Side one has a few choice nuggets.  "Isolation," with its synths and drum machine, seems to presage the band's post-Curtis work as New Order, albeit with a predictably darker theme; it's downright catchy.  "Passover" and "A Means To An End" are both solidly compelling, while "Colony" is a bit more aggressive, kind of a follow-on to "Atrocity."

But it's side two that I turn to again and again, with some of the band's best songs; it's also one of the coolest things around if you're, shall we say, in a different state of consciousness.  (And I don't know what the band was complaining about -- Hannett's production is simply stunning; the remaster sounds like the band is playing next to you in the room.)  "Heart and Soul" rocks a steady, dark groove; "Twenty Four Hours" is simply phenomenal, a moody verse that switches into double-time, as catchy and gripping a track as anything on Unknown Pleasures; "The Eternal" is a slow, creeping dirge, verging on beautiful.  And then the album closes with "Decades," and if you try to imagine what it might sound like if one of the most innovative and influential post-punk bands ever attempted to encapsulate everything they wanted to say on the eve of their singer's demise, it would be this song.  For a band that rejected some of their early recordings because the post-production addition of synths made them sound too "new wave," they wholly embrace the synths here, an insistent, absolutely haunting trill backed by a restrained beat, while Curtis quietly proclaims/queries, "Here are the young men, where have they been?"

"Decades" is, quite simply, stunning, an amazing close-out to an album and a band.

Here's a fan-made video for "Isolation":
Here's a lyric video for "Twenty Four Hours":
...and a video for "Decades":

Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder. Another major favorite from teen/college years. I find it next to impossible as a middle age parent to listen to Joy Division anymore, this album in particular, as it instantly brings me back to that dark, emotionally vulnerable age, like back when I was 17 or 19, say, a mood that is hard to afford when you have to pick kids up from school in 15 minutes, say. (Contra Breakfast Club, your soul doesn't die when you grow up, it's just too busy to think). Btw what do you think of Still--some tracks on there, such as Dead Souls or Sound of Music, rival or even surpass what's on Closer.

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    1. That seems fair; I certainly listened to a lot less JD as my kids were growing up. But that's one of the perks of an empty nest -- I can pull the darker stuff back out for a spin. (Though my wife abhors them, so it's still something I can only play when she's away or on headphones.)

      Definitely a few great tracks on Still (I think Dead Souls and Something Must Break are great; Ice Age and Walked in Line are less interesting but a nice throwback to their early punk days). Personally I think the Substance/Singles collections are fantastic; throw in the Still highlights and you've got a third album as good as Unknown & Closer.

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