Joy Division, Closer [Collector's Edition]
A transmission from the other side of mortality
There's a tomb on the front cover of Closer and the rank stench of death permeating every one of its songs. This is not by accident: Two months after the band completed recording, Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of his home, Iggy Pop's The Idiot on the stereo, Herzog's Stroszek playing on the TV.
No record in history sounds more like a transmission from the other side of mortality than Closer. In fact, for much of the album it sounds as if Curtis is already dead. If he mastered the ability to convey dread in his voice on Unknown Pleasures, Closer is the moment where his prose catches up to his performance. His writing here is startling, nailing with incredible precision the slow disintegration of his hope and morale. The opening passage of "Passover" is a master class in economy and evocativeness: "This is the crisis I knew had to come, destroying the balance I've kept/ …Is this the role that you wanted to live? I was foolish to ask for so much/ Without the protection and infancy's guard, it all falls apart at first touch." Throughout the album, Curtis flagellates himself endlessly for his extramarital affair and struggles to cope with his increasingly debilitating epilepsy (the opening song, "Atrocity Exhibition" appears to be about spectators at a circus freak show, but is actually about audiences gawking at Curtis's freakish behavior on stage). He tries to apply reason to life, and when reason fails he becomes desperate. The struggle reaches its apex in the driving "Twenty-Four Hours," which ends with Curtis, having lost all resolve, making a startlingly direct announcement of his intention: "I never realized the lengths I'd have to go/ …I looked beyond the day in hand — there's nothing there at all."
Perhaps sensing his desperation, the rest of the band provides music that is somehow even more severe and relentless than that of Unknown Pleasures. Sumner's guitar is devastating, pushing forward with machete-like swipes. "Colony" is full of spasms and twitches, Sumner's riffs just clawing and scratching rather than forming actual notes. In fact, much of the melody on Closer comes from bassist Peter Hook, and his low, throbbing bass figures help to give the album its horror-film feel. "Heart and Soul" is mostly just low pulse and throb, Curtis's voice hovering wraithlike in the shadows.
If "Twenty-Four Hours" captures the moment of death, Closer's final two songs are the wake: "The Eternal" crawls along miserably, a lone loping piano line circling over and over, crow-like. Curtis's opening line is appropriately funereal: "Procession moves on, the shouting is over/ Praise to the glory of loved ones now gone". The song is riveting, impossibly still, proceeding quiet resignation. The album's finale is even grimmer. "Decades" is arresting in its simplicity: just haunting organ, bare percussion and Curtis's voice, here admitting, "We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chamber/ pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in." He's stuck there as the album ends, warped, surging organ playing him off into the shadows.
"People admired [Ian] for the things that were destroying him," Curtis's wife Deborah wrote in Touching From a Distance, her moving account of their fractured marriage. "He cajoled us [and] nurtured us with his promises of success. After showing us what it looked like, he offered us a mere sip before he abandoned us on the precipice."