|First posted 1/26/2013; updated 9/13/2020.|
Released: July 18, 1980
Peak: -- US, 6 UK, -- CN, 23 AU
Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, 0.25 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: goth rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 44:16
4.686 out of 5.00 (average of 20 ratings)
About the Album:
“Rock, however defined, rarely seems and sounds so important, so vital, and so impossible to resist or ignore as here.” AMG Closer is “lauded as a gothic masterpiece” PP because of “its impact on the subsequent goth movement – a paradigm shift for punk music.” ZS Author Colin Larkins says it is “deservedly regarded by many critics as the most brilliant rock album of the 80s.” WK It introduces “a new post-punk sound, which oscillated between unsettling beats to, even more surprisingly, mutated disco sound in the space of a few tracks.” GQ It “burns with distress and foreboding, the songs seeming to drag us deeper into the depths of Curtis’ despairing mind, as we bear witness to his tortured words.” PT It is “a colossal work of art; a post-punk pillar; an ingenious sonic landscape; a blinding existential vision of songwriting.” PT
The album “journeys through a bleak songscape of hopelessness and loss,” RV a fact which caused the album to be more scrutinized the wake of lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. As such, the album “is pervaded by a sense of eerie beauty, like the still before the storm.” PR Curtis’ vocals “haunt the stark, minimalist backdrop like a troubled earth-bound spirit, pleading for release.” PR “The tracks would be in danger of grinding to a complete standstill, enthralled by their own spectral grandeur” PR if not for “the momentum secured by [Peter] Hook’s melodic” PR and “icy bass lines” RS500 alongside the “occasional flashes of overdriven” PR and “droning guitars.” RS500
What also lifts the album is that it is “dark, depressed and innovative.” ZS “Differing mixes, differing atmospheres, new twists and turns define the entirety of Closer, songs suddenly returned in chopped-up, crumpled form, ending on hiss and random notes.” AMG The end result is a “harrowing and emotionally raw testament” ZS and “one of the most chilling albums ever made.” RS500
Epilepsy and Suicide:
Curtis was diagnosed with epilepsy in January 1979. “While the band and manager Rob Gretton insisted that no strobes or flashing lights were used when Joy Division performed, it’s at best doubtful whether Curtis should have been performing at all.” QT He would sometimes have seizures on stage and his condition certainly wasn’t helped by the rock-n-roll lifestyle.
In addition to physical problems, Curtis was dealing with depression and a failed marriage. He’d married young at 19 years old and already had a daughter. However he was having an affair with Belgian journalist Annik Honoré and his wife, Deborah, wanted a divorce. On May 18, 1980, he hung himself at age 23 on the eve of the band’s first North American tour.
Making of the Album/Martin Hannett:
The band started recording the album on March 18, 1980 at Britannia Row in London where Pink Floyd recorded Animals and parts of The Wall. It was produced by Martin Hannett, who’d also done Unknown Pleasures. His production was “more intentionally claustrophobic and confrontational” on Closer than Unknown Pleasures. PT He “was all about creating space – a kind of musical inner space” QT so he deliberately “bathed the tracks in effects and mixed them to sound hollow and cavernous.” DG Sumner didn’t like the mix because he wanted it to sound more like the band’s aggressive live performances. Hook said hw wanted the band to sound more like the Clash. QT Hook said Hannett referred to the band as “three idiots and a genius” QT and that Hannett preferred to work alone in the studio with “the genius” (Curtis). QT
The Album Cover:
In the wake of Curtis’ suicide, there was some controversy over the album cover. Released only two months after his death, Closer sported a cover with mourners gathered around a man lying on a bed. The band was accused of bad taste and cashing in on Curtis’ death. However, the cover had been approved by all four members before Curtis killed himself. The photo, taken by Bernard Pierre Wolff, was taken from a trendy art magazine called Zoom. It was of a statue created in 1910 by sculptor Demetrio Paernio. Called “The Lamentation of Christ,” it depicted the Virgin Mary, St. John, and Mary Magdalene mourning the recently crucified Jesus. The statue was from the Appiani family tomb in the Staglieno cemetery in Genoa, Italy.
Lead song Atrocity Exhibition “sets the tone for the album’s sound: metallic rhythms, damaged synthesizers and jagged guitars are laid bare against brutal and sparse lyrics.” RV It “was arguably the most fractured thing the band had yet recorded.” AMG Hook and Sumner actually traded instruments on the track so Sumner played bass and Hook played guitar. Meanwhile, Morris added a tribal drum pattern influenced by krautrock band Can. Morris said, “I was probably trying to do ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ or something by Captain Beefheart. I remember making them put in synths through fuzzboxes and making a horrible ambient racket, which you could barely hear on the record, but it's like a buzz saw.” GQ
The title came from a J.G. Ballard collection of what he called “condensed novels.” Ian liked the title and wrote lyrics before reading the book. DG The song is about a person locked in a mental institution because he feels he has no control over his body. People come to tour the asylum and see the freaks. The song ends up being a commentary about people’s fascination with the grotesque.
“The squirrelly lead synth on the energetic but scared-out-of-its-wits Isolation” AMG integrated elements of synth-pop and electronic music with a “dead-simple drum machine track” DG cranked in the mix by Hannett. Ironically, considering the song title, it may be Joy Division’s most upbeat song. CS Morris said it sounded like a song people could actually dance to. He also recalled it being the first song they put together in the studio around synths. GQ Hook said it is “one of my best riffs and probably the closest we get to my actual live bass sound on either album.” BV
Morris noted that the song doesn’t have a regular beat and that the lyrics reflected an interest Curtis had in divinity. GQ With lines like “Is this the role that you wanted to live?” and “This is a crisis I knew had to come/Destroying the balance I’d kept” this also reads like a suicide note. In retrospect, the whole album feels like a suicide note.
One can read a detailed breakdown of the song musically by professional musician Gordon Moakes at Medium.com.
The title is a reference to Franz Kafka’s 1919 short story “In the Penal Colony” CS in which the narrator “described the origins and uses of an elaborate torture device at a prison colony.” BV Morris said it is probably his favorite Joy Division song. “I really thought Ian’s lyrics on that one were absolutely fantastic.” GQ He was also proud of the drum riff, which he said was inspired by a Captain Beefheart song. BV Hook said it was “more of a traditional Joy Division rock song – probably the straightest on the LP.” BV
“A Means to an End”
Hook said this one was “a bit more poppy than ‘Colony.’” BV He explained that the bass was “centered around octaves – something that I nicked from disco songs. We would also later use that same octave technique on the synths for ‘Blue Monday.’” BV Morris noted that the song had an unusual vocal line that made it awkward to sing. GQ
“Heart and Soul”
The song demonstrates “minimal instrumentation masterwork, Peter Hook’s dangerous bassline clashing with the controlled drum beat.” PT Morris said it has a “hypnotic rhythm that just doesn’t stop. I remember in the studio doing it and you go into a bit of a trance while you're just playing the beat over and over because you couldn't just sample it.” GQ This song and “Twenty Four Hours” are “as perfect a demonstration of the tension/release or soft/loud approach as will ever be heard.” AMG
“Twenty Four Hours”
On “the jaw-dropping, wrenching” AMG Twenty Four Hours “Curtis embodies despair and pleas for an escape from loneliness. It’s a declaration of frustrated rage that remains subtle with unrelenting eerieness.” RV He sings: “Now that I've realized how it's all gone wrong / Gotta find some therapy, this treatment takes too long / Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway / Gotta find my destiny, before it gets too late.”
Hook said this was one of the last songs the band wrote together, BV but Morris said it was one of the first things the group did after Unknown Pleasures. GQ
This song, with “the drowned pianos underpinning Curtis’ shadowy moan” AMG showed how “keyboards…took the fore more so than ever.” AMG It evokes the mood that emo music would go on to convey. PT
Curtis told Morris the song was about someone with Down’s syndrome. Curtis would see him in the park playing and he never seemed to age. GQ
“The album ender of album enders.” AMG It is “a long, slow crawl down and out, Curtis’ portrait of lost youth inevitably applied to himself soon after, its sepulchral string-synths are practically a requiem.” AMG This and “The Eternal” both showcase Morris’ “powerful and unsettling percussion.” PP Morris recalled that the song originally had a bossa nova beat GQ and that Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records to which Joy Division was signed, was trying to get Curtis to sound like Frank Sinatra. BV
Notes: A 2007 CD remaster added a bonus disc with a live performance from the University of London Union.
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