(All Album Reviews by Chuck AzEee!)
On Joy Division's second and last studio album, Closer, the band went out in style. While the music press favored the more guitar oriented debut of Unknown Pleasures, most fans find the synthesized morbidity of Closer to be the band's magnum opus.
The ominous signs death were there, from the album's name to the picture of a tomb on the album's cover, to songs depicting sadness and angst, Ian Curtis on the last studio album of his lifetime, would elevate Joy Division to elite status, providing the blueprint to future synth-pop bands like Depeche Mode.
Some of Ian's most soul wrenching lyrics are featured here, exorcising demons as a letter confessing his inner fears and pains, i.e. the track "Twenty Four Hours" which is Ian's depiction of how life was for him being seizure prone and having to suffer and deal with the problem everyday, which was too personal to ignore, but yet by the time everyone got Ian's message he had already took his life.
All nine songs on Closer are brilliantly crafted, with guitarist Barney Sumner providing more of his Kraftwerk influenced keyboarding to most of the songs here, the stunner being the album's closer, "Decades" which is the atypical Goth-rock track, while the innovative bass work of Peter Hook chimes throughout, flubbering his way around percussive drumming of Stephen Morris on songs like the Can-like "Atrocity Exhibition" and "A Means to An End".
It has been years since the remaining members of Joy Division soldered on to become the synth/dance-pop band called New Order, but the band would never capture the power that were on both Unknown Pleasures and Closer, as for life proved kind to Barney, Peter and Stephen, but none had to live the life Ian Curtis suffered through, but yet through his wizened baritone, he still speak to those whom are willing to listen.
(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Some 25 years after it was released, this proves to be an interesting revisiting of a landmark album that, dare I say, was quite progressive and forward thinking for its time and in its own way, quite a progression from their earlier post-punk output. No, it doesn't have displays of extreme technique or multiple sections of odd-metered instrumental prowess, but what it does have is daring sonic experimentation and production that was VERY cutting edge for its day.
Under the auspices of the late Martin Hannett, Joy Division was given free-reign to try unusual sonic textures and mine the very depths of their psyches, especially singer/lyricist Ian Curtis, whose tortured and all-too-real musings of despair, living with an affliction (epilepsy), betrayal and uncertainty could not be ignored. Over all, the album has a very reverb/echo-laden sound yet the detail is never sacrificed as words and instrumental parts come through with amazing clarity.
"Atrocity Exhibition": With a definite nod to Can (the off-kilter drumming and psychotic atonal slide guitar), the band paints a tale of people being entertained by misery and self-torture. Definitly not happy-slappy stuff. "Isolation": Even perky dance beats and uptempo synths could not hide the despair in Curtis's musings here. This definitely foreshadowed, like it or not, what people like Depeche Mode and the like would do a short time later.
"Passover": With a haunting octave guitar figure, the band launches into a rumination of the consequences of betraying a loved one, an all-too-real snapshot from Ian Curtis' own life. "Colony"-the closest this album gets to a straight rock song and even then the tribal drumming. "A Means To An End" is the band's look at misplaced trust with a vaguely Velvet Underground (minus the heroin fixation) feel. "Heart and Soul": Starting with authoritative synth-bass, the song picks up momentum like a hurtling steam engine, pushed along by martial drumming and Bernard Sumner's clangorous, metallic guitar as Curtis contemplates if life really is worth going on with.
"24 Hours": Here, the band really stretches out with a lot of exaggerated dynamics and Peter Hook's distinct lead-bass as Curtis tries to make sense of his own affliction and its implications. "The Eternal": Gets huge cool points for its sonics, stark atmosphere and production alone. Moving at a slow, deliberate funeral dirge tempo, this piece features an omnipresent eerie low keyboard drone somewhat resembling human voices, plaintive piano, buzzing insect-like guitars, echoed snare drum and a haunting bass figure that buoys Ian Curtis's observations and inner turmoil. So few pieces of music can capture the emotional state of a funeral procession on a grey rainy day quite as convincingly as this.
"Decades": a stunning closer, initiated by off-kilter bass/drums interplay, an insistent electric harpsichord figure pulls the listener in to Ian's pained observations and questions. Towards the end, an eerie Mellotron passage is heard and before you know it, the band exits with an insistent, urgent figure as Ian asks "Where have they been?"
All told, a classic album that would influence countless others for years to come.