Thursday, September 20, 2007

No. 157: Closer

Band: Joy Division
Album: Closer
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Hypnotic and depressing, "Closer" is the type of music one hangs himself to (Ian Curtis did, in fact, hang himself). Droning guitars and synthesizers build off slowly rhythmic bass lines as Curtis drones on about his epilepsy and wacky thoughts on love. Dissonant and powerful, "Closer" is nothing if not interesting. Also, it inspired a generation of somber, pale-faced teens across England to start bands.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not particularly easy to listen to; The record is basically a suicide note set to dissonance. Half the songs are 5:51 or longer. It's not for everyone.
Best song: The opener, "Atrocity Exhibition" is great. "Twenty Four Hours" is the most interesting, with its reverb and more complex drumming. "Isolation" is the most radio-friendly.
Worst song: "Decades" isn't all that great and it goes on too long.
Is it awesome?: It's not for everyone, but I enjoy it.

There are a few too many Nazi references within the Joy Divison/New Order (New Order is Joy Division, post-Ian Curtis' suicide) for me to be totally comfortable with them, I think. The band's original name was Warsaw, New Order has Nazi implications and the actual name Joy Division was a reference to the prostitution wings in Nazi concentration camps. A lot of punk rock embraced Nazi symbolism in order to take away its meaning, but somehow, the starkness of Joy Division creeps me out a little.


KCOU, the college radio station where I worked, has a birthday celebration every October, as the station was formed on Halloween. Sometimes, there are shows on Halloween and many of the DJs, DJs-in-training and exec staff dress up for the show. My freshman year, when I was a merely a trainee, had a litany of shows (Superchunk/Guided By Voices, a pre-fame Bright Eyes, Emperor Penguin, etc.). I don't remember who played the show -- if I wasn't lazy, I could probably check -- but one show featured a costume contest. I wore a small child's Pikachu outfit; It didn't fit well, but that was the point. My friend Joe (whom I've quoted here) came as Ian Curtis. All he did, if I remember correctly, was tied a noose around his neck and put some blood on his shirt. I believe he won.

It was a perfect costume for that crowd, really. It was unique, it was macabre and it was delightfully pretentious; I certainly didn't understand the costume until he explained that it was Ian Curtis.


I've never been a huge fan of the British sad guy rock of the '80s. I'm not the biggest Cure fan, I don't love the Smiths and Joy Division never really floated my boat. I'll say that I like Joy Division more than the other two bands, but there is a real monotonous vocal thing going on with Curtis' voice. "Eternal," specifically, is almost clockwork-esque in its rhythm. "Atrocity Exhibition" is a great song, with disjointed studio effects and the ominous chorus of "This is the way, step inside."

"Twenty Four Hours" is picture of Joy Division. Overly dramatic and passionate, the song recounts the various Curtis depression-inducing stuff. As the song builds off an easy bass riff, the layered guitars come in and Curtis intones:

So this is permanence, love's shattered pride.
What once was innocence, turned on its side.
A cloud hangs over me, marks every move,
Deep in the memory, of what once was love.

Oh how I realized how I wanted time,
Put into perspective, tried so hard to find,
Just for one moment, thought I'd found my way.
Destiny unfolded, I watched it slip away.

If the bolded lyric isn't the perfect Curtis lyrics, I don't know what is. It takes a certain type of depression to create the type of music Curtis did and it's just as moving as it is melodramatic and sad.

Joy Division is a huge influence on my favorite microgenre of music -- post-rock -- and are cited by two of my favorite bands as important. Mogwai has referenced them in song and interviews and Tortoise appears on the Joy Division tribute record doing "As You Said." So, I should love it.

But, I don't. It's fine, but I don't want to kill myself anytime soon, so identifying with the lyrics aren't easy.

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