This year marks the 35th anniversary of both the release of Joy Division’s final studio album Closer and the death of lead singer Ian Curtis. Over the years, it’s been easy to say that people should have seen his suicide coming. His marriage was falling apart, his epilepsy was worsening, and so his songwriting became filled with imagery of unremitting desolation, emptiness and alienation. “For entertainment they watch his body twist/Behind his eyes he says, “I still exist”” sings Curtis on the distorted, tribal sounding opening song ‘Atrocity Exhibition’.
Produced by the eccentric Martin Hannett, Closer is even more claustrophobic, more inventive, more beautiful, and more haunting than its predecessor. From start to finish this is Joy Division’s masterpiece, a true representation of everything the band wanted to be. The ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ leads to the relentless yet somehow still economical ‘Isolation’, the group have clearly become more confident in themselves and in their arrangements. The death march ‘Passover’ is a clear sign that the band is fully aware of their ability to be both melodic and despondent, and then in ‘Colony’, the crunching guitar has a stop-start sound that takes us back to the sound of Unknown Pleasures.
‘A Means to an End’ is where the album switches into another gear. The absence of a chorus is not only symbolic of the album, but also of the band’s transition into what could have been their new direction. Which leads onto the stuttering drumbeat and haunting bass that creates a minimalistic and isolated feeling to the song ‘Heart and Soul’.
‘Twenty Four Hours’ is Curtis’ final attempt on the album to reach out for help, despite knowing he can’t escape the inevitability of his mortality. ‘The Eternal’ is a song that most would consider to be the bleakest song the band ever recorded, with lyrics such as “Cry like a child though these years make me older/With children my time is so wastefully spent”, I see it as a sign of where the band wanted to go next and showed their ever increasing development. The album bows out with ‘Decades’. Curtis sounds as though he is singing a ghostly ode to the loss of youth: “We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chamber/Pushed to the limit we dragged ourselves in.”
This is the one band and the one album that, no matter what, I will always come back too. It is one of the most beautifully honest albums of the last century and if you haven’t discovered it yet, I urge you to find a place for it in your record collection.