How Do We Even Write About Joy Division? “Closer” Turns 35.

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joy division closer

It is hard as fuck to write about Joy Division. Everyone who knows music outside of radio standard top-charts and classic rock “Best Of” collections knows Joy Division. At the 35th anniversary of Ian Curtis’s death, it’s safe to say full generations of discerning music critics now love this band. So what can I even say about their second and final album, Closer, the legacy it confirmed for them, and the new territory of sound which Closer made available to future listeners and musicians?

Not much. Not much because sometimes respect for something can be hard to explain.

So in order to give proper homage to Ian’s death and the 35th anniversary of “Closer”, I decided to call in the troops in order to write this article.

First I text my friend Sean*, usually a fail-safe consult when it comes to all things music related, pleading with him to meet me for a beer and to let me pick his brain. His reply reveals the same sort of discomfort and insecurity about discussing this album which I am feeling, “Billy JoelGlass house – was the number one album when it was released. Literally the opposite of Joy Division.” He then followed with, “In the UK, Rolling Stones Emotional Rescue was actually the number one album at the time of release” (which I would also consider the absolute opposite of Joy Division for obvious reasons we don’t need to talk about here. Also I am not entirely certain of Sean’s source for this information…).  He also noted that according to the dubious internet knowledge forum of Wikipedia, Joy Division first began recording Closer on March 18th, Curtis died two months later on May 18th, and the album was released on July 18th. This was all possible evidence for the numerological importance of this album’s conception, but nothing concrete to truly pin down all the indie “feels” which Closer has created, or how Joy Division was truly able to bloom and encompass several distinct genres (punk, post-punk, electro, dance, goth… etc) in the oppressive industrialism and relatively dry era of pop culture which surrounded them at the time of  its conception.

With Sean relatively unhelpful with his triva-heavy response, it behooved me to put the question to the opinion-rich platform which is social media. There, it was confirmed that the pulsar graphic from Unknown Pleasures is in fact an irritating and common tattoo within the indie worlds of literally everywhere (one of my friends even confessed a bit of thankfulness to their 19 year old self who, at the very last moment before ink and skin met, had the foresight to second guess her own JD tattoo). It was also observed that the pulsar graphic is particularly recognizable on t-shirts and has been appropriated by all sorts of fashion forums.  Of course this doesn’t have much to do with Closer per se, but it does confirm that people well, people like Joy Division. People really do still like Joy Division , they are particularly tender towards the art and pain of Ian Curtis, but it is hard for them to say why. But again, none of this exactly helps to celebrate the technicalities and legacy of Closer.

No, this isn’t much of a retrospective or comprehensively unique look into Joy Division except to say that people love them, and Closer is one of the most perfectly crafted sophomore albums to ever be released by a seminal band. An inventive and stripped-down divergence from their first body of work, it’s sound was darksome, insidiously electronic- the perfect bridge into what electronic music would later mean to everything from post-punk to the most experimental of electronic flailing. And that’s it, really.  To close, I think my friend Sarah said it best when she replied to my Facebook inquiry with her thoughtful response:

When I was in Paris and really depressed much of this album and especially the song “Passover” was my go to. I would listen to it on repeat and just ride the metro around by myself. A general misconception about joy division is that it’s sad music for sad people, but I’ve never thought of it that way. These are dance tracks for sad people. It’s what we listen to when we wanna say “Fuck sadness I just wanna hear some kickass droning noises set to a damn catchy beat”. The Smiths is for wallowing in self pity, Joy Division is for challenging self pity to a very serious and high stakes dance off in your mind. Also Ian Curtis was a dick to his wife, so fuck him.”

Yeah guys, Joy Division is still subtly great, Closer is still an innovative classic, and you don’t have to be feeling any type of way to enjoy its enduring beauty or at least take Sarah’s advice and have a little weekend one-person dance party to the first track that makes you want to move.

*Last names withheld for some semblance of privacy in this modern world.

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  • Cat Mitchell

    Fantastic read, fantastic album, fantastic band.