Joy Division - Closer - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Joy Division - Closer

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:1980-07-18
Joy Division - Closer
Joy Division - Closer

There is no opener quite like, ‘Atrocity Exhibition’. Those grinding, buzz saw guitars and Ian Curtis imploring you, “this is the way, step inside”. If Unknown Pleasures didn’t end on a dark enough note, Joy Division’s second album, Closer had no intentions of letting up. The pietà depicted on the cover would become eerily prophetic as Closer would be the band’s last studio album. Curtis’ suicide now looms heavily over Joy Division like a shroud. Of course, the band and possibly Curtis himself, had no idea of what was to come when cutting this, their sophomore effort. This is the sound of a band at their creative peak, looking ahead, not saying farewell. Pushing the envelope to see just how far they could go. Despite all those it influenced, there is no album quite like, Closer.

Compared to ‘Atrocity’, ‘Isolation’ is downright upbeat. Which isn’t saying much with lyrics that positively ache with alienation and longing. Despite Martin Hannett’s austere, funereal production, Curtis and company have never sounded so alive. Anyone who feels that Joy Division were about gloom and doom are only listening with superficial ears. Despite their despairing reputation, this is a very misunderstood band and album. This music is about survival, not morbid resignation. True, the atmosphere is bleak, but at no time does Joy Division wallow in it. Far from it. If anything, it’s a lesson in economy. Less is truly more. Lyrically, the odds may seem futile but there is still a last-ditch effort to break on through to the other side.

‘Passover’ is a reckoning, not a suicide note. Ending with the line, “wondering what will come next”. ‘Colony’ begins with a “cry for help, a hint of anesthesia.” ‘Means To An End’ could not be more ambiguous and mysterious, Curtis both pleading and condemning with, “I put my trust in you.”

‘Heart And Soul’ is about what is to be risked, not lost. A song about struggling with changes, not surrendering to despair. ‘Twenty Four Hours’ doesn't drag you under so much as propel you forward. True, it is a grim, claustrophobic world that is evoked. Yet, there are also ethereal moments of haunting beauty as evidenced in ‘The Eternal’. Its off-kilter rhythms leaving the listener unsteady on their feet.

While the band had no notion of the musical genre known as Goth, they have long been credited for its rise. And gothic, they no doubt are. As gothic as an abandoned cathedral with dead leaves blowing down its aisles. However, I’d argue that more than anything, Joy Division’s sound was primal. Far less concerned with contrivance than getting close to the bone. Which is one reason why they still sound so resonant in the contrived, image conscious musical era we now enjoy. Joy Division weren’t saying, “look at me”. They were saying, “look inside of me.”

‘Decades’ provides a queasy departure with its metallic synths and roiling keyboards. “Where can they be? Where can they be?” Curtis murmurs as the band fades out. What a way to end an album. With a question. A question for which, there is no real answer.

While despair and longing are omnipresent and even oppressive at times, they’re also signs of life. Ultimately this is music about endurance, not death and decay. If anything, this band has endured. And as Chekhov once wrote in the Seagull, “The endurance is all.”

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