As the punk explosion of 1977 died down, and the filth and the fury became little more than a distant memory, Joy Division emerged with something far more sublime and sophisticated. Indeed, to call music of this quality ‘post-punk’ does not do it justice. Perhaps Lydon, Strummer and co. should be referred to as ‘pre-Joy Division’.
‘Closer’ was Joy Division’s second and final studio album, released shortly after the death of vocalist Ian Curtis. The morbid atmosphere which dominates throughout could be seen as his last will and testament, yet this record is so much more than a musical suicide note.
On the opening track, ‘Atrocity Exhibition’, Curtis makes a sincere promise of ‘mass murder on a scale you’ve never seen’, in time to tribal drumming. ‘Isolation’ provides the blueprint for New Order, with its driving dance beat and new wave synthesiser.
‘Heart And Soul’ features an earthquake of a bass riff, courtesy of Peter Hook, and Bernard Sumner’s angsty metallic guitar. The music is perfectly suited to the existential lyrics of Curtis, delivered throughout in a tone devoid of all emotion.
The tense, reflective anger of ‘Twenty Four Hours’ is typical of the album as a whole. It explores “all the darkest corners of a sense I didn’t know” before giving way to ‘The Eternal’, an ode to bereavement which is the defining moment of Closer.
Despite their tragically short career, Joy Division proved to be a formative influence upon many bands, such as Interpol and Manic Street Preachers.
Many of Joy Division’s colleagues, such as Tony Wilson, and minimalist sleeve designer Peter Saville, went on to achieve fame by association. The band themselves became royalty within the Manchester music scene, and a key chapter in the Factory Records legend.
Closer features neither of their biggest hits, ‘Transmission’ or ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Yet it is still by far their definitive record, and one of the finest to emerge from the 1980s.