Joy Division. The name rings of oxymoron and ironic potency. How can you start a Joy Division review? You can't open with a joke, that's for sure. Joy Division is an unnaturally gloomy band, the pioneers of sorrow and the band stuck in the middle of joy and death. Their legacy is magnificently strong, as bands ranging from Interpol to Editors have all been accused of supposedly ripping off Joy Division's sound. But how can you rip off Joy Division's sound? Closer
, Joy Division's ultimate achievement, is an album filled with contrasts that always end up in the gray. Black vs. White, Dance vs. Death, God vs. Secularism. It's a swirl of darkness and raw passion. Not a band today could do what Joy Division did, and no band probably ever will. That's because Joy Division is a band that didn't make songs to just make songs. Each one is laden with the pain that would come to define the minorities of a generation and the outcasts that they were. Thus I give you:
Joy Division- Closer
Joy Division, for those of you who don't know were a British post-punk band with a frighteningly suicidal lead singer. Ian Curtis, the man in question, did end up killing himself shortly after the completion of Closer
's recording. The sorrow and masterfully ironic one-liners decorate the album in a sort of oblique ice. Curtis, a well read child obviously, quotes the doomiest sides of literature, with lines from William S. Burroughs, JG Ballard, and even The Old Testament, though frighteningly often to be a gloomy man. One would think the Bible would give him council or guidance in his time of need. But that's not the case, obviously, as references to God and men in the Bible carry an ominous tone, as though instead of celebrating God, Curtis is rejoicing in his uppance to him. Yikes. The band has a knack for providing Curtis's laments with driving rhythms and excellent bass lines to create a sense of urgency and pain the men of Joy Division create so well. The opener, Atrocity Exhibition
is a hellish rant, painting a horrid picture in the mind of the listener. Over Stephen Morris's perfect Latin American tom rolls, Curtis sighs "Asylums with their doors open wide/ Where people have paid to see inside/ For entertainment they watch his body twist/ Behind his eyes he says 'I still exist'. This is the way. Step Inside." Creepy? Yes sir. This is my introduction to the band, and a very gloomy one it is. But that's the idea, I suppose. Joy Division's mongering in the deep swirling blackness that was Curtis's head provide the inspiration for modern Goth-rock, minus the Satan worshipping. The black and white cover, on which there is a picture of an indiscernible Roman-Catholic statuette provides the overall feel of where Closer
will take you. You don't know where, and you don't know why, but you will be affected by it for a long time.
Now, much ado has been made over modern bands supposedly walking the same path as Joy Division, and that may well be. There are traces of Passover
all over Interpol's crescendo triumph "The New", but to be frank, Interpol's sound is different than Joy Division. While Interpol provides dark music to accompany gloomy lyrics, Joy Division throws dance-hall rhythms under darker lyrics, creating a contrast so striking, they blend perfectly. The vocals, though both bands have baritone singers, are definitely different, despite modern scoffers immediate write-ups of imitation. While Paul Banks' voice has a ring to it, a cleanly produced monotone, Curtis is an unkept, arise-minions mourning cry that while at times drifts out of key, but for all the more natural and real effect. On Colony
, Curtis doesn't sound human as his instrument deadpans "A cry for help, a hint of anesthesia, The sound from broken homes, we used to always meet here. As he lays asleep, she takes him in her arms, some things I have to do, but I don't mean you harm," all while Guitarist Bernard Sumner, Bassist Peter Hook, and Morris crescendo in a stutter-stepping carousel of a riff, climaxing in which Curtis begins to shriek "Dear God and his wisdom took you by the hand/ God and his wisdom made you understand in his colony." Hook and Morris's telepathic interlock makes the stronghold for so much of Joy Division's material. Hook's back fuzz on Heart and Soul
, along with Morris's bass- snare triplet dance-hall rhythm makes for a hypnotizing listen, literally making you wan to dance, but as usual, Curtis's lyrics are punishing, with the chorus being "Heart and Soul: What will burn." Few bands can pull off a dance track and contrast it this well. The only other band I can think of with this capacity is Radiohead, who's "Idioteque" was one of the most punishing rants modern music made today. But of course it was Joy Division who paved the way for them.
One of the great things about Closer
is that it can go into various tempos, striking as hard in each one. One second, it can go from the tempo pushing Twenty-Four Hours
, on which Morris's drumming brings back the ghosts of Keith Moon, as he fills his way between circles of 4ths, and the next second they could go into a gothic ballad. The Eternal
, which clocks in at a glorious 6 minutes and 7 seconds, is a track built off the heartbeat of Hook, and for the first time on Closer
, we see a piano, and beautiful it is, i.e. Straylight Run. It's a funeral march in essence, Curtis insists with the opening line "Procession moves on, the shouting is over." It listens like a death march too, as Morris's echoing snare/b-boom bass provides the speed of the procession. Apparently, it is written about a down-syndrome child Curtis knew when he was a boy. Curtis does more than write about the child, but instead climbs into his head, where who knows what may be going on. Capturing the true essence of the moment, Curtis sighs "Cry like a child, though these years make me older, with children my time is so wastefully spent". With the knowledge of Curtis's imminent suicide so potent in the listener's mind, each echoing snare and piano lick make The Eternal
sound like a post-humus composition from Curtis, and his spirit does not sing with the angels, nor does it cry with the souls of the wicked, but rather live on as Jacob Marley, a ghost who is doomed to walk the Earth for all afterlife, and witness the horrors modern man has placed in front of us.
Sounds like Closer
is too monstrous to adequately enjoy? I suppose one could say that. Of course they don't have the album. It's a gut-wrenching effort, using synthesizers, violins, and the classic rock setup to produce a darkness so inaccessible, it's all the more beautiful when you finally accept it. Told you the album was built off contrasts. But the thing is is that when you finally accept it, you're in for a treat none of your friends know. On the final track, Decades
, your given one of the rare treats in music, the time when everything eerily seems to blend together, as if the song were not manufactured, but the band picked up the instruments and played the song without any knowledge of what the other would do. And they created a gem. Decades
is an aural cataclysm, the nightmare of Curtis's life you are no longer viewing, you are now a part of. You share it with a horrific intensity, a feeling of isolation and self awareness. Hook and Morris' pushing the tempo of the swirling synthesizers build the song so well. Soon the gothic choir enters to pronounce the death of Curtis, and Curtis sighs, with frightening relief, "Where have they been?" The afterlife of the spirits seem to be calling Curtis, and as a listener, you, to the realm where they dwell. Memories of but 45 minutes ago seem to finally make sense, it all comes rushing back as you recall Curtis inviting you "This is the way. Step inside." It all comes full circle.
is the album that would come to define Joy Division in all their suicidal glory. Their previous effort, Unknown Pleasures
is argued to be the better album of the two Joy Division put out, but honestly who cares? If the previous album is as good as, or even better than Closer
, then that just proves how magnificent Joy Division really was in their all too brilliant, but ever so short stay in this life. It's a musical triumph from every angle you look at it, as lyrics carrying the dark are matched only by the rhythms carrying the light. The two extremes make the album so devilishly good yet so heavenly powerful. It's a daunting listen for the untuned ear, but when you finally get it, it's one of the best albums you're likely to find. Joy Division were the first band to ever adequately capture the confusion and questioning suicide brings to the table, and it's arguable that they're the only band to do so. Ian Curtis has gone down in history as a legend, though with not nearly as much press coverage as Kurt Cobain. But that's the way it should be, it seems like. Curtis saw the way to use his feelings and make his music.
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