Rewind: Joy Division’s Closer

Rewind: Joy Division’s Closer

With TIDAL Rewind, we blow the dust off an old album that’s begging to be heard again. Here, we look back at Joy Division’s second and final album, Closer, which turned 35 years old this month. 

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What is Closer?

Closer is the second and final studio album by english post punk pioneers, Joy Division. It was released on July 18, 1980, just two months after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, who took his own life at the age of 23.

The album was recorded at Britannia Row Studios and released through Factory Records. As with their debut, Unknown Pleasures, Closer was produced by Martin Hannett, who was integral to managing and shaping the band’s bleak, melodramatic aesthetic.

To compliment the album’s morose sound and subject matter, the cover photo depicts an Italian tomb. Designer Peter Saville expressed deep concern with this choice following Curtis’ death, but later used a photo from the same cemetery as the alternative cover for the posthumous single, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” The album was also partly inspired by The Atrocity Exhibition – the controversial, experimental novel by J.G. Ballard – from which Closer gets its opening track.

What does it sound like?

Closer reads like the decomposition of a troubled young man, especially in retrospect of Curtis’ untimely demise. During the making of the album, Curtis’ marriage was falling apart, his epilepsy was worsening, and he suffered from intense melancholia – and all of these feeling are palpable on the album.

In broader terms, Closer’s sonic construction creates a haunting, claustrophobic and introverted atmosphere. With a wide use of ghostly and heartfelt vocals, rattling drums, hypnotic keys, sound effects, looming bass and minimalistic guitar riffs, the album sounds like an atrocity exhibition of human gloom, wrapped in sedative punk rock.

Why should I care?

Closer marks a high (and low) point in rock, punk and post-punk history.

On both a lyrical and sonic level, the album stands out as a coherent and hauntingly beautiful tour de force in youthful paranoia, depression and uncertainty. Closer captures a timeless atmosphere of universal and existential topics regarding love, despair and the human condition.

And besides being an undisputed classic, the album sounds just as fresh and compelling today, achieving a rare and perfect balance between the ugly and the beautiful, the crooked and the melodic.

Where do I hear more?

Joy Division’s equally iconic debut, Unknown Pleasures, is much like the history of the band itself: brief, intense, tragic and everlasting. Released on June 15, 1979, by Factory Records, Unknown Pleasures has a more ripped, guitar- and bass-driven sound than its successor, whereas Closer relies on synthesizers and studio effects to create a desperate and fearful tone.

Nonetheless, producer Martin Hannett managed to sprinkle many of his unusual production techniques over the album, such as a bottle being smashed, crisps being chewed and the sound of a flushing basement toilet. These effects contribute a futuristic, alienated and urban atmosphere to the listener experience.

Strangely enough, the band’s greatest and most beloved hit isn’t featured on either of the two albums. Released as a single in June, 1980, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” became Joy Division’s first and only song to reach the charts. The confessional tune is a painful and heartbreaking love song concerning the problems in Curtis’ marriage, as well as his failing mental health.

Following Curtis’ death, his wife, Deborah Curtis, had the song title inscribed on her husband’s memorial stone. Today many consider “Love Will Tear Us Apart” one of the best singles of all time – and for good reason.

Following Curtis’ demise, the remaining members of Joy Division formed the band New Order in 1980. Combining post-punk with electronic dance music, New Order stands out as one of the most influential bands of the ’80s new wave scene.

Released in May 1983, New Order’s second studio album, Power, Corruption & Lies, is a great example of the band’s heavy use of electronic-based sound effects. The album contains the synth pop single, “Blue Monday,” which is still the biggest-selling 12” single of all time.

New Order has released nine studio albums to date. Their tenth, titled Music Complete, is set to release in September 2015.

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