"It's a heavy album," says Bernard Sumner, who played guitar and keyboards with Joy Division and still can't listen to Closer. "It was a voyage into the dark side of yourself."
"Decades," the masterpiece that closes the record, seems to tell of that voyage: "We knocked on the doors of hell's darker chambers/Pushed to the limit, we let ourselves in/Watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying/We saw ourselves now as we never have seen."
The eerie soundscapes and fatalistic lyrics on Closer (re-released on Qwest/Warner Bros.) take listeners down into the abyss and challenge them to crawl back out. Metal machine rhythms and twisted, tortured guitars echo Ian Curtis's anguished vocals, while synthesizers add a feeling of steely, high-tech alienation. Peter Hook's bass often carries the melody, an innovation much copied since — there's not a doom rocker around who doesn't owe something to Joy Division, but they're just gray imitations of a deep, dark band.
"Mother I tried/Please believe me/I'm doing the best that I can/I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through/I'm ashamed of the person I am," Curtis sang on "Isolation." As if to prove he really meant it, Curtis took his life soon after the album was recorded, hours before the band was to embark on its first American tour (the band changed its name and carried on as New Order).
Joy Division's powerful first album, Unknown Pleasures, had topped the British independent charts in 1979, yet the members of the band weren't fully satisfied with the sound of it. "We wanted it to be more powerful," says Sumner. Less than a year later they recorded Closer. Curtis acted as musical director; as Sumner says, "The madder the music sounded, the more pleased he would be with it."
The members of the band would sleep all day and work through the night, undisturbed, until dawn, when twittering birds would sometimes find their way onto the studio tapes. Sumner says that while they were recording a room sound, they picked up a phantom whistling the tune of "Decades" — odd, since the building was otherwise deserted. Figuring it was a bad omen, they left it off the record.
Ironically, Curtis dropped hints about his fate, yet no one could decipher them. He once told Sumner, "I feel like I'm caught in a whirlpool and I'm being dragged down and there's nothing I can do about it." "But he wouldn't explain what he meant," says Sumner. "I think he wanted someone to help him, but he didn't want to ask."