Monday, January 22, 2007

Joy Division - 'Closer'

Rating - A/10
Aw, man. Even if this album hadn't more or less coincided with frontman Ian Curtis' suicide so closely, it would still be one of the most downright depressing and beautiful things in the rock canon. It's even more cold, dissociated and yet desperate than their debut, Unknown Pleasures (which I will also review at some point). The band's schizophrenic mix of jaunty and dominating bass grooves, melodic and often poppy keyboards, guitar turmoil and Ian Curtis' detatched, despairing vocals and lyrics can sear their way into your consciousness with rather deleterious effects if you're not careful. The mood never lets up, and I can't blame the surviving members for swinging more towards the pop end of things in their next avatar, New Order. Anything to get that darkness behind. This is the sound of terminal alienation, which is not a healthy staple diet for any boy or girl.

All of which might sound like I'm an emotionally vulnerable listener panning this album for being too dark. That's not true, and quite apart from my personal fortitude, this album has enough compelling music and unforgettable songwriting to make it a worthwhile listen.

The epic opening track, The Atrocity Exhibition sets the pace. Titled after an equally disturbing JG Ballard novel, it's a chilling portrait of atrocity-as-spectacle via the Nazi death camps. The music is spare and precise, and the almost robotic groove and roiling guitar point the way to industrial music. Isolation juxtaposes driving bass and jaunty keyboards with a haunting journey into Curtis' state of isolation. Passover is plodding and desperate, while Colony is disturbingly pacey. Means To An End is another epic-feeling track with a chilling message of betrayal. Things get more groovy, and the melody is back, for Twenty-Four Hours which sees Curtis trying to find his destiny 'before it gets too late'. That melodic sense just kills on tracks like this. The Eternal and Decades are cold elegies to a broken spirit. The gentle piano work on the former, placed against a plodding, definite rhythm is a great aural portrait of a state of mind and Curtis' vocals are unforgettably vulnerable, and relatively unmasked by the distancing veneer of monotony he often resorts to. Decades has those almost pop-friendly keyboards and upbeat rhythms in places again, sounding very elgiac however, and ends the album fittingly, with a cold knife through your heart.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: With its precise, spare soundscapes and layerings of unsettling groove and melody, this is THE party album for your suicide salon. If you're beyond teen-Goth angst, it's simply a very beautiful and haunting album with enough musical merit and truly expressive lyrics to justify more than a few listens. Just don't listen to it all alone, with the lights off.


Venice Viking said...

I don't have this Joy Division album, which is a shame, but I do have "Permanent: Joy Division 1995." The album is as close as the band gets to having a Greatest Hits cd out. It contains four tracks from the "Closer" album.

I first got introduced to Ian Curtis's music when hearing Trent Reznor's straight forward rendition of "Dead Souls" on the first "Crow" soundtrack.

JP said...

I discovered the Division though covers too - NIN's Dead Souls, Therapy's Isolation and Karma 2 Burn's 24 Hours. I guess our age is showing! :)