Closer is the sophomore effort from Joy Division. Widely known for the fact it was released following the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, the musical aspect of this album often goes unmentioned. Therefore I am attempting to concentrate solely on the musical aspect of this album in this review, and explain why it is one of the most important pieces of music ever made.
This album sees Joy division maintain their sound with tracks like ‘Isolation’, ‘Passover’, ‘A Means to an End’ and ‘Colony’. All of which present to the listener what they expect with a Joy Division album, a fast paced, catchy instrumental and the infamous baritone voice of Curtis . It is the later tracks like ‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Decades’ which make this album so special. They point towards a more mature sound, a slower more ethereal one, which could have been achieved had Joy Division endured. Many perceive Closer as a requiem for Curtis’ life, I, however, would interpret this album as a microcosm for the potential of Joy Division.
‘Passover’ begins with a tight morris drum beat buoyed by a paradoxical use of soft, warm synths and harsh guitar. It isn’t until Curtis’ vocals interrupt that the distant and echoey guitar riff dominates the instrumental. The fluidity of Hook’s bassline very much drives the song and it perfectly compliments Curtis’ dejected and atmospheric dark tone. These combine to create a calm and melodic tune that seems to have a darkness lying near the surface.
‘A Means to an End’ presents Morris, Hook and Sumner combining forces to produce an eerie textural atmosphere straight off the bat, which once introduced to the ever crooning lyrics of Curtis, amalgamate to produce what is arguably the most complete Joy division song. Off beat, almost random guitar tunes interject at places that shouldn’t work, but they manage to contribute to this ‘boiling over’ aspect that is present in most Joy Division songs. Curtis’s repetition of the line ‘I put my trust in you’ brings a human aspect to the song, almost pleading with the listener.
‘Heart and Soul’ is the perfect example Joy Division’s journey towards what they potentially could have produced in the future. A slowed down more sombre melody which upholds the same tidy drum beats and smooth bass, but introduces a more subdued approach to the guitar and vocals. The introduction to this song displays the comprehensive layering of textural synths to create a melancholic ballad atmosphere whilst maintaining the ethereal sound. This is very much due to the production from Martin Hannett. Repetition of the lyric “Heart and soul, one will burn” lead into the last minute of the track, where a despairing collation of synths and guitar riffs create a sense of despondency and anguish as the music slowly fades out.
‘The Eternal’ is the bleakest track to have been recorded by Joy Division. Once again the quick and plucked guitar and bass introductions of Unknown Pleasures are replaced with a much slower and more layered sound. It draws you in slowly, the music buoyed by the despairing vocals and intermittent piano chords. Curtis’ vocals grab you in a sort of claustrophobic constraint. The line “No words could explain, no actions determine, just watching the trees and the leaves as they fall” requires no explanation or description of its mortification, other than that it perfectly encapsulates the character of this album.
Closer is one of the most bleak and emotionally draining albums created, however, it should not be viewed as a monument to what Joy Division were, but as a signal to where they were going musically. It is for this reason that Closer provokes such emotion in its listeners. All musical aspects appeared to mature with this album, converging and intertwining, creating an inevitability to it. Curtis produces beautifully melancholic lyrics throughout the album, and is supported perfectly by Morris, Hook and Sumner who display a master-class in creating a despondent and almost wretched atmosphere. One of the most iconic and poignant albums ever made, Closer’s album art demonstrates the bleakness and simplicity of the album: a neo classical depiction of a funeral.
Closer was released on the 18th of July 1980, via Factory Records.