Joy Division – Closer

Calxie #1: Album most likely to ruin a dinner party: Nominee 3 of 4

Picture the scene: 1980, a few months before Joy Division’s second LP is set to be released, head of Factory Records, Tony Wilson, gets a phone call. It’s Annik, the girlfriend of the band’s frontman Ian Curtis.
Tony: So, what do you think of the new album?
Annik: I’m terrified.
Tony: …Why?
Annik: Don’t you see? He means it!
Not long after that, alone in his house,  Curtis watched the movie Stroszek, listened to Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’ LP and hanged himself in his kitchen. Fast forward another two months and the release of ‘Closer’ feels like the official publication of a private suicide note, though not one that insults the memory of its subject, but instead makes him seem more chillingly vulnerable than ever and only serves to strengthen his memory. His lyrics refer to his depression, the guilt of his affair and his inability to balance his grand mal epilepsy with performing gigs which only make his condition worse. Even though these issues may seem specific, Curtis makes them universal truths; something that anyone ensnared by despair can relate to, all in his murmering, grave-digger baritone.
And I haven’t mentioned the music yet. ‘Closer’ is more frantic and yet more desperately despondent  than ‘Unknown Pleasures’. It’s every bit as great as their debut, but ‘Closer’ utilises more keyboards, more serrated guitars with a less mechanical and more organic sound. The melodies are every bit as memorable and interesting, but it also feels more like a complete album rather than a collection of songs; it starts off flailing in the agonised, sardonic ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ and gradually ransacks itself of hope before collapsing in a heap at the end with the funeral ‘Decades’. Every track has its own distinct texture and atmosphere, even though the instrumentation hardly changes; all in varying shades of black and grey. My personal favourite is, for some reason, ‘Heart And Soul’, which sees the music becoming more cavernous and haunted with a two-note, buzzing guitar riff answering Curtis’ phantasmal verses. You have Joy Division to thank for goth, for darkwave electronica, Moby, the list goes on. An extremely fitting coda to one of the most important bands of their time.

Do I even need to say why you shouldn’t play this at a dinner party?? I would have thought that was obvious! This may be the opposite of comfortable listening, so don’t even think about it. It’s sadness through to the core, right down to the cover which features a tombstone (eerily chosen by Factory artist Peter Saville before Curtis had died).
Key track: Twenty Four Hours

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