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Sounds 26/7/80 Album review by Dave McCullough Closer to the edge JOY DIVISION 'Closer' (Factory Fact XXV)***** Young men in dark silhouettes, some darker than others, looking inwards, looking out, discovering the same horror and describing it with the same dark strokes of gothic rock. These are the soul musicians, unexpectedly; you stretch rock from swamp weeping sorrow, through Presley, through Tamla ('Love Will... Make-It-Alrite'), to punk and now to the storm and stress of young men looking in, looking out, making their soul with a terrifying sense of finality and of the end of the chain of rock events. No mistaking Joy Division mark an era, others clutter around them. In itself 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' even this early suggests the best love song since Dylan's 'Love Minus Zero'; that song is perfect in a perfect way, bringing all the technique together but more than anything else cutting the heart open with an incision so deep and so true it's hard to listen to, providing one total outpouring of soul and reliable, blood and flesh experience that 'Unknown Pleasures' could only hover round and protract to an aching degree. If 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' is the incision, the deep cut, then 'Closer' comes as the surrounding, convoluted stream of events. Like 'Unknown Pleasures' it's a bitterly unhappy album; the only warmth is in the satiated knowledge that it's down on vinyl in it's utter, undiluted unhappiness. 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' is completeness, the album is more balanced, rounded and at the same time more roughly-hewn than it's predecessor. The ideas are pulled in and pulled out with all the time a more solid base than 'Pleasures'. This base is the aural equivalent of a rich marble slab, as luxurious and as poignant as the stoney antique death image that adorns the sleeve; light is refracted every which way, the music and tonal production levels swoop up and down unpredictably, never standing still, never resting twice in the same place. The astonishing variety is schemed and managed well by Martin Hannett, giving the music the space and the air it needs, and leaving Ian Curtis's voice a place now right in the centre. The album covers the Joy Division spectrum of that moment with a chameleon's ease of movement, beginning with the album's longest and loosest structured track, the welcome-to-our-chamber-of-terrors nightmare noise and fizz of 'Atrocity Exhibition'. It lives up to it's name, Curtis hissing "This is the way, step inside" while skating on the shiny metal of Bernard Albrecht's guitar-synth, the track ending in a melee of slippery noise that walks all over Pink Floyd's 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun' (a running theme across the album is also the manic shearing of 'Dark Side Of The Moon', though it doesn't irritate). 'Isolation' reminds me of Kafka's 'Metamorphosis', Hannett brings the tone down a step, synths flower, references of "Mother I've tried, please believe me", the song is short and bursts with action, though, typically for the entire album, at the very last moment, somehow ebbs away incomplete just as the very reverse seems assured. That, too, adds to the hopelessness. At the end of the first side 'A Means To An End' stands out. The song, half in revenge half in remorse, hangs around the line, driven in as hard as a nail, "I put my trust in you"; it has the same accessible and urgent structure as 'Love Will' and, similarly, can't stop me thinking of early Stax and Tamla singles. 'Passover' is subtle and shimmying and steeped in an acceptance of guilt. The ensuing, rumbling 'Colony' is back to fierce r'n'b-based Joy Division, venting through the steam a mention of "God in his wisdom took me by the hand" as if to stress the parallels with the early blues/gospel music. The second side is an attempt at transcendent Joy Division; the songs are blown up large, nothing is spared in arrangement. And here my reservations arise; there's something almost too claustrophobically PERFECT about the four songs, they lack the air and space of the first side, suddenly the production crosses the border from masterly subtle to finickly obvious. It could do with a mistake here and there, a clanger dropped genuinely and not almost in desperation as it is after 'The Eternal' where a buzzing radio and brief chat breaks in, which only seems to confirm that too great a weight of perfection was put into these songs. Perhaps it's a case of Martin Hannett's book of tricks running dry or running too fast. Either way, I'm just arguing with the idea of perfection itself; there's no debating that these four songs are the most developed and the most essential Joy Division to date, and Ian Curtis's talents reach a vivid peak of despair. 'Heart And Soul', the ebb and flow of 'Twenty Four Hours', the lowest lows on 'The Eternal' (a kind of dream walk through a funeral) and the final, climactic synth bolts of 'Decades'. the album closes as only a classic soul album can, coming through from the utter hopelessness of love in Ian Curtis's heart and talking about "the sorrows WE suffered", shedding the light out around it into the world. See for yourself. Judge for yourself. But don't take it too serious (we all take it too serious sometimes when we have to). 'Closer' is breathtaking rock music, a peak of current peaks, a sharing of something that's in Magazine, Bunnymen, even Dexy's and others at this time, but at the same time defining those black notions and leaving them unmatched. If we could look at it from twenty or more years away maybe we'd know more of what the young men in dark silhouettes have to say. For now 'Closer' is close enough. It will tear you apart. Again. DAVE McCULLOUGH

Last updated on 2005-03-07 10:21:00 PM - 10:21:00 PM
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