This is the third in a series of music reviews. The focus will be on new releases or classic albums that I still listen to and enjoy today. My taste in music covers all genres and time periods, but few albums can last the ravages of time and retain their potency and magic.
Review Number: 3
Review Date: 18 July 2014
Artist: Joy Division
Release Date: 1980
Genres: Post-Punk, Gothic Rock
“This is the way, step inside.”
Released exactly two months after the suicide of its lead singer, Ian Curtis, this album became more than a piece of music, but an inevitable lament for the dead.
Curtis’ death, on 18 May 1980, the day before a flight to America and tour, ended the aspirations of Joy Division and their probable ascension to power and glory.
“But if you could just see the beauty, these things I could never describe.”
At times the plaudits lavished on the album in the 80s became excessive and overblown, but listening to it 34 years later (and every year in-between) shows how it has weathered supremely well. Closer could have been released this week – and still reap the wild wind of adulation.
If you can get past the ferociously maniacal drumming and disturbing sounds of opening track “Atrocity Exhibition” (inspired by J.G. Ballard’s story collection) – your lucky prize leads onto the ice-cold stabbing synths of “Isolation” and then even greater distractions.
“This is a crisis I knew had to come, destroying the balance I’d kept.”
“Passover” pulsates with a hypnotic bass riff and drums – and some impressive wordplay from a man who had just died… aged a mere 23. The cold crisp sounds hide the ultimate analysis of the human condition.
The staccato “Colony” examines separation. The dynamic and driven “A Means to an End” turns to betrayal. The whispering and sinister “Heart and Soul” tackles existence. This is a work of art that demands a person’s full attention.
“God in his wisdom made you understand. God in his wisdom took you by the hand.”
This is Joy Division’s second and last studio album. The first, Unknown Pleasures, was a phenomenal debut. But Closer showed a greater depth to Curtis’ voice and lyrics. An incredible amount of maturity had appeared. The band were getting even better and concocting their own distinct sound – energetic, intelligent, pristine, timeless.
With the benefit of hindsight the album reveals that in fact Curtis – a ‘people pleaser’ as bassist Peter Hook described him – was heading into the abyss. Curtis’ epilepsy, lifestyle, affair with a Belgian, and the impending end to his marriage (all complicated by a young daughter) – had taken their toll. It’s a story best left to Hook and Curtis’ ex-wife, Deborah.
“Existence, well, what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can.”
Out of the ashes, the remaining band members picked themselves up, formed New Order, and moved on.
Hook said much later Joy Division could have been as big as U2. Who knows? Life is littered with maybes.
“We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber, pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in.”
1. Atrocity Exhibition
5. A Means to an End
6. Heart and Soul
7. Twenty Four Hours
8. The Eternal
Deborah Curtis (1995). Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division.
Peter Hook (2013). Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division.