7 Fascinating Insights into Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ Album
7 Fascinating Insights into Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ Album

7 Fascinating Insights into Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ Album

History and Development

In the annals of post-punk history, few bands have cast as long and as haunting a shadow as Joy Division. The Manchester-based group, active from 1976 to 1980, fused raw emotion with innovative instrumentation, creating a sound that was both intimate and expansive. At the center of this whirlwind was their sophomore album, ‘Closer’.

Genesis of ‘Closer’

While many know ‘Closer’ as Joy Division’s magnum opus, its creation was anything but straightforward. Riding the wave of their debut ‘Unknown Pleasures’, the band members found themselves at a critical juncture in their personal and professional lives. Ian Curtis, grappling with his personal demons, became the heartbeat of this project. As the band transitioned from their raw punk roots, ‘Closer’ began to shape itself as a somber reflection of their growth and the turbulent world around them.

Working with producer Martin Hannett once more, the band delved deeper into experimental territory. Hannett’s unique approach, involving the use of novel recording techniques and effects, gave ‘Closer’ its atmospheric depth. Tracks were laid down at Britannia Row Studios in Islington, London, a location that offered the latest in recording technology.

Collaborations played a pivotal role. Stephen Morris, the drummer, once revealed that the recording sessions were intense. Experimentation was key, leading to several tracks being recorded in multiple ways before settling on the final versions.

Sonic Landscape and Musical Evolution

With ‘Closer’, Joy Division defied easy categorization. They transitioned from the punk-heavy sound of their earlier days to an atmospheric and synth-driven palette. Bernard Sumner’s guitar work, interwoven with synthesizer motifs, lent the album a surreal soundscape. Peter Hook’s bass, consistently deep and melodic, became the backbone around which the other instruments danced.

Moreover, the band’s choice to integrate electronic elements showcased their willingness to tread uncharted waters. Songs like “Isolation” with its synthesizer riffs represented this evolutionary leap.

Released in 1980, just two months after the tragic suicide of lead vocalist Ian Curtis, ‘Closer’ stands as a testament to the band’s musical progression and Curtis’s introspective lyricism. The album evolved from the raw, punk-inspired sounds of their debut, ‘Unknown Pleasures’, to a more mature, textured soundscape.

Track Listing

‘Closer’ is comprised of nine tracks, each bearing its own weight in the narrative of the album:

  • Atrocity Exhibition – An intense opener that immediately showcases the band’s evolved sound, blending relentless drum patterns with a haunting melody.
  • Isolation – A synthesis of electronic music influences with Peter Hook’s unmistakable bass, underscored by Curtis’s vocals capturing feelings of alienation and despair.
  • Passover – A somber reflection on lost love, with lyrics that eerily foreshadow Curtis’s impending tragedy.
  • Colony – Here, Curtis’s vocals take on a manic quality, backed by a relentless rhythm section.
  • A Means to an End – The track merges melancholic verses with an almost uplifting chorus, a juxtaposition that was a hallmark of Joy Division’s sound.
  • Heart and Soul – A brooding track marked by its pulsating rhythms and introspective lyricism.
  • Twenty Four Hours – Arguably one of the most emotionally charged tracks on the album, it’s a raw exposition of anxiety and existential dread.
  • The Eternal – A somber ballad that serves as a stark contrast to the intensity of the preceding tracks.
  • Decades – Closing the album, this track is a haunting exploration of time and loss, characterized by its hypnotic rhythm and synthesizer-driven melody.

Significant Reviews

Since its release, ‘Closer’ has been met with widespread critical acclaim. Renowned music publications have lauded its depth and innovation.

NME once described the album as “a start-to-finish masterpiece, a flawless encapsulation of everything the post-punk movement had been striving to achieve.”

Pitchfork, in a retrospective review, emphasized the album’s lasting influence: “More than four decades after its release, ‘Closer’ remains a cornerstone of post-punk, a testament to the limitless potential of the genre.”

Rolling Stone magazine, while noting the dark overtones stemming from Curtis’s deteriorating mental health, celebrated the album’s “brave sonic exploration.”

While we touched upon the immediate acclaim ‘Closer’ received, it’s important to consider its long-term impact on music critique. Many reviewers, over time, have reflected on the album’s haunting precognition of Curtis’s imminent departure.

In a poignant review from The Guardian, the critic wrote, “Listening to ‘Closer’ is akin to attending a sonic séance, where the veil between life and death, hope and despair, is tissue-thin.”

Spin magazine, in its feature on timeless albums, stated, “’Closer’ is not just an album; it’s an atmosphere, a mood, a shadow that lingers, long after the record ends.”

Key Themes

Central to ‘Closer’ is a tapestry of themes woven with visceral emotion:

Isolation and Alienation: This is most evident in tracks like “Isolation”, where Curtis’s lyrics and the instrumentation capture a profound sense of loneliness.

Existential Anxiety: Songs such as “Twenty Four Hours” delve into the depths of existential dread, pondering life’s meaning and the inexorable march of time.

Love and Loss: Tracks like “Passover” and “A Means to an End” capture the anguish of lost love, both in romantic relationships and in a broader sense of detachment from the world.

Mortality: Given Curtis’s tragic fate, the theme of death looms large. It’s hard to listen to tracks like “The Eternal” without considering the singer’s own struggles with depression and his eventual suicide.

Mental Health: Curtis’s battle with epilepsy and the associated mental strain permeate the album. Lyrics like “Confusion in her eyes that says it all” from “She’s Lost Control” in their debut album resonate even more in ‘Closer’, with Curtis’s reflective exploration of his internal world.

War and Societal Decay: Tracks like “Atrocity Exhibition” were inspired by J.G. Ballard’s collection of the same name. They dive into the macabre fascination society has with disaster and decay.

Version/Release History

Upon its initial release in 1980, ‘Closer’ was made available on vinyl through the Factory Records label. The haunting album cover, designed by Peter Saville, featured an image of a tomb from an Italian cemetery, a fitting visual representation of the album’s themes.

The digital age saw ‘Closer’ re-released on CD in the late 1980s. In 2007, to mark the album’s 27th anniversary, a remastered version was released, accompanied by previously unreleased studio sessions and live recordings.

Vinyl enthusiasts were in for a treat in 2015 when the album was reissued on 180-gram vinyl, allowing a new generation of listeners to experience ‘Closer’ in its original format.

Similar Albums

The post-punk era was rife with innovation, and several albums, while distinct in their own right, share thematic or sonic similarities with ‘Closer’:

  • Talking Heads – ‘Remain in Light’: Released the same year as ‘Closer’, this album too pushed boundaries, blending post-punk with elements of world music.
  • Siouxsie and the Banshees – ‘Juju: Another 1981 release, ‘Juju’ is a dark, atmospheric journey akin to ‘Closer’, but with a more gothic tinge.
  • The Cure – ‘Seventeen Seconds’: Robert Smith and co. dived deep into moody, atmospheric sounds, resulting in an album that resonates with fans of ‘Closer’.
  • Bauhaus – ‘In the Flat Field: As pioneers of the gothic rock genre, Bauhaus’s debut album shares the same haunting energy and innovative spirit that characterizes ‘Closer’.
  • The Smiths – ‘The Queen Is Dead’: Morrissey’s poetic lyrics combined with Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar showcased another side of Manchester’s musical brilliance.
  • Radiohead – ‘OK Computer’: Much like ‘Closer’, this album delves into themes of alienation, technology, and existential angst.
  • Interpol – ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’: Often considered the spiritual successors to Joy Division, their debut album resonates with the same dark, atmospheric energy.

In the vast panorama of music history, ‘Closer’ by Joy Division stands tall as a monument to the transformative power of art. An embodiment of emotion, innovation, and tragedy, it remains a touchstone for countless music enthusiasts and artists alike. As the years go by, the album’s legacy only seems to grow, a testament to its timeless appeal and profound impact.