Monday, 18 February 2013

Desert Island Discs 49 - Closer by Joy Division

49 Closer by Joy Division 1980

Is it possible to listen to this as just a piece of music? , or does the knowledge that this was recorded just before and released just after Ian Curtis's suicide mean that facts and the legend that have grown up around joy Division cast too big a shadow?

I was 13 when this came out and so too young to really get it at release. Instead Joy division were what New order used to be and the band that had made the catchy Love will Tear us Apart, as a result the sense of myth and wonder around the band had passed me by.

It was only at poly 7 years after its release that I got to hear the lp, at which point I knew it more as a poster that seemingly covered 100 halls or residence walls than an lp.

At poly we had to do a couple of work placements and at my first I got to know a girl who had graduated a couple of years previously and started in the same dept at the same time. So not only was she 4 years older (she owned her own flat which was luckily just round the corner from the house I shared ) in , gorgeous looking but even better drank whisky like a fish and liked doing compilation tapes. For one summer I was in heaven.

The first tape she did had a mixture on one side and Closer on the other. Maybe my view was slightly coloured by how I first heard it but from then on I was hooked.

The focus of Joy division is always Ian Curtis and the lp saw his vocals so much more confident and soulful than the band's debut , he doesn't sound like someone on the cusp not of self destruction (despite the despair in some of the lyrics) but of greatness.

However just as important for me is the rhythm section. Peter Hook's bass stands out but the sound I loved about the lp was Stephen Morris's precision, flourish free , drilled and relentless drumming. It manages to dominate but not overshadow at the same time. Take that away and the thing would have fallen apart.

Finally having known him as an individually styled singer Bernard Sumner's guitar playing with it crashes jagged edges and spikes is a revelation

Listen to these two and then think about the rush of copy cats we have had in the last few years. None of them could touch the haunting beauty of Heart and Soul or the bottled tension and frustration of 24 hours

Heart and Soul - Joy Division

24 Hours - Joy Division

I'll end with a point that Garry MulHolland makes in the excellent Fear of Music 

But the most painful thing about Closer .... It's the negation of something we all want to believe. because the writing and singing of Ian Curtis are as accomplished and deeply soulful as art gets. Yet it made no difference to him . It wasn't catharsis or therapy.

You can buy Closer here


  1. My most traumatic memory of Joy Division was getting up to dance to Love Will Tear us Apart and realising halfway to the dancefloor that it was the godawful Paul young version. The shame and mortification...

    Great record.

  2. I've always been a bigger fan of Closer than Unknown Pleasures. Now I don't really find fault with Unknown Pleasures, but it wasn't as immediate as Closer was when I was first exposed to it. Sophomore albums are rarely better than debut's, but I think you hit the nail on the head - Closer is Joy Division, and especially Curtis, more confident and focused. I think there is a sense of revelation in the words, whether Curtis meant their to be or not. You're also right that it is hard to listen to this album without putting it's history into it. I remember being so excited that JD were coming to NYC to play that Spring and so very devastated when things unfolded the way they did.
    Now I don't really find fault with Unknown Pleasures, but it wasn't as immediate as Closer was when I was first exposed to it.

  3. 'Closer' a seminal album by all accounts, but for some reason leaves me cold. On the other hand, New Order connected with me big time. Why?

    #49 - AMBROSIA - Somewhere I've Never Travelled (1976)

    - OK, Trev dared confess his adolescent prog-rock fetish... here's one of mine. I'm not sure if this California band made it across the Atlantic, where prog-rock royalty reigned supreme, but I think Ambrosia were every bit as good; and Alan Parsons' glossy production on an blend of symphonic art rock & literate pop songcraft a good deal more accessible. Yes, they had the big hair & gaudy robes popular at the time, but lacked the pretention of their peers. Zubin Mehta, conductor of LA Philharmonic discovered the band!

    The eponymous debut featured the haunting hit "Holding On To Yesterday", and band-fan Kurt Vonnegut co-wrote "Nice, Nice Very Nice" which was an FM staple. I adore that record but the 2nd album was even better. The LP jacket unfolded into a friggin' pyramid!!! And everyone who opened it up was transported to "Somewhere I've Never Travelled". An ambitious, complex album that I still love, I spent countless hours with headphones on, enveloped in the kaleidescope of sounds.
    Give it a chance... You've gotta hear the spectacular Chopin tribute "Danse With Me George" or the cinematic Aaron Coplandesque "Cowboy Star" or the profound "I Wanna Know" or...
    Maybe it's prog-rock, but dammit I love this record!

    Danse With Me George:
    I Wanna Know:
    Cowboy Star:
    Holding On To Yesterday:
    Nice, Nice Very Nice:
    Can't Let A Woman:

  4. Hi Echo - great summary

    Seamus I remember be also did a cover of Billy Bragg's Man in the Iron Mask!!?
    Okay tim you've thrown down the challenge - my soundtrack this pm as I write a presentation will be Ambrosia!

    1. Please take into consideration that I was drunk on nostalgia, as well as several Buds when I wrote this blabberfest. I'll accept my penance of Hail Mozzos without complaint since I'm guilty as hell...

  5. Well, I certainly can't knock this choice.Classic album, but not something I've listened to enough to warrant a place in my top 125.
    #49 Thomas Dybdahl - Science. This was my intoduction to his work ,and after buying the rest of his catalogue it remains my favourite
    2 minutes of bliss

  6. Hi Phil - I've got a compilation of his that we released in the uk as an introduction - lovely stuff

  7. I was always left cold by Joy Division's music and muse; they seemed like a particularly joyless bunch to me; same with New Order; although my lack of interest in them might have something to do with a punchy northerner recognizing kindred spirits; Caliban catching his own reflection, so to speak. There's only so much imaginary chewing gum that you can chew and stomach (see also: George Bush).
    Nice cover though and I loved the biopic 'Control''...
    TT, if I could find a word to rhyme with 'Ambrosia' I'd write a limerick...
    Phil, I love Thomas Dybdahl but won't be writing a limerick about him either. My fav' of his will appear much later...


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