Joy Division: Closer (1980)
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":