#309: Closer, Joy Division
Rolling Stone calls Closer “one of the most depressing albums ever made,” which means I should love it. Deep down in my heart I’m nothing but a goth little weirdo who wears black lipstick to class. Like many misguided young music fans, I was drawn to Nirvana and doe-eyed Kurt Cobain as a teenager. Now that I’m an adult, I have to wince at the possibly morbid reasons I came to love Nirvana, even while I still can’t help but love them, because guess what? They made good music.
So why can’t I get into Joy Division, when in so many ways they resemble my favorite band? They released two mainstream albums before the deaths of their respective frontmen: lyricist Ian Curtis passed away two months before JD released Closer. Of course it’s reductive to compare them like this, but for me it’s hard not to, especially since Curtis’ lyrics live in the same mental space that Cobain’s do. Just compare JD’s “Heart and Soul,” (A journey that leads to the sun/ Soulless and bent on destruction) to KC’s “I Hate Myself And Want To Die,” or Curtis’ miserable song about his wife “A Means to An End” to Cobain’s song about falling into a “Heart Shaped Box.”
I’ve known a lot of people that rightfully hate the sound of misery, but I’ve always thought it was kind of compelling. Therapeutic, even. But there’s nothing about Closer that’s therapeutic to me. Martin Hannett produced this record horror movie sound effects than a Halloween playlist, and then some. “Atrocity Exhibition” sounds like an electronic zoo, and “The Eternal” like a Lo-Fi Hip Hop song written by cicadas. “Decades” on the other hand, sounds exactly like a member of the Addams Family is playing the keyboard.
Maybe the fact that I don’t love the mix means that I’m not as goth as I thought I was, after all. (Though I’m in good company: Joy Division didn’t like the mix either.) But I forced myself to hear past the robot-graveyard noises and into Bernard Sumner’s gorgeous, ringing guitar. He uses it like a set of wind chimes on “Passover,” then ratchets his playing up to a relentless rhythm on “Twenty Four Hours.” And my prayers were answered with “Colony” which has the palm-muted metal guitar part that you would expect from an album with a tomb on the cover.
You know the thing that gets me? These were mostly created during jam sessions, according to Sumner. How can you make depression music during jam sessions?? I always think of jam bands as being joyful. The only song that I thought was any fun at all was, um, “Isolation.” Jesus, dude.
So there is no “joy” to Joy Division. Not even for me, who consistently finds joy in the bleakest music. The genius of Joy Division certainly doesn’t escape me. And who knows? My British doppelganger is probably lying in her bedroom right now, listening to Joy Division, thinking about how overrated Nirvana is.