Sunday, March 29, 2009

Joy Division's Closer

As a direct tie-in with the recent release of ‘Control’, photographer and video director Anton Corbijn’s deferential biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, all three studio albums by the group have been re-released in remastered formats. Out of the three official Joy Division studio albums, 1980's 'Closer' remains the most compelling and outstanding, with a palpable air of bleakness hanging over the proceedings like a disembodied wraith.

This is probably due to the fact that it is the band's last recorded material, immortalised on tape just before Curtis' shocking suicide by hanging in May 1980. It is also Joy Division's most realised body of work, successfully bringing together all the artistic and lyrical elements and nuances that made the group such a persuasive musical force, even after nearly 30 years after their disbandment.

’Closer’ opens with the rumbling percussion, jagged guitar grindings and moaning vocalisms of the aptly named ‘Atrocity Exhibition’, a perfect showcase for the band's remarkable, almost instinctive synergy. The kinetic, proto-synth-pop ‘Isolation’ is up next, a clear indicator of the direction that Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris would embark upon as New Order after the dissolution of their first band.

However, the pace is slowed down for the third track, ‘Passover’, a disheartening, disconsolate ditty about the inevitability of a predestined fate, marked by Sumner's controlled guitar pyrotechnics. The skittish, restless ‘Colony’ brings things up to speed again, with Morris' extraordinary, suitably anxious percussion work, anchored by a curt, Hook-y (as it was) bass groove. This is followed by the insistent, stubbornly adamant ‘A Means to an End’, and the echoing, unearthly six-minute ‘Heart and Soul’.

The final run of ‘Closer’ is highlighted by arguably its most noteworthy number, the melodramatic threnody ‘Twenty Four Hours’, still the most compelling and engaging song in the band's entire oeuvre (complete with the foreboding line "Just for one moment, I thought I'd found my way/destiny unfolded, I watched it slip away"). The sepulchral, slow-motion funeral marches ‘The Eternal’ and ‘Decades’ that provide the joint conclusion for ‘Closer’ sound like appropriate epitaphs for Curtis, as he drifts towards a cul-de-sac of a future.

So, ‘Closer’ will remain a bona fide gem in the annals of rock history, simultaneously absorbing and accomplished, and ample evidence to the genius of the late, lamented Curtis. However, casual rock fans are well-advised to keep a distance from this austere masterpiece, lest they be frightened out of their wits. For the discerning rock fan, however, ‘Closer’ is surely one of the most realised works in late 20th-century rock, and for that reason alone, you need to pick up this reissue, if you don’t already have it.


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