Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Joy Division—
Closer


Released 1980 on Factory
The Seth Man, June 2000ce
They sounded too tight for a punk band, too psychedelic for new wave and altogether too calm for the claustrophobic skin their musical emissions were housed in. I felt privy to an aftermath of an album whose raging heavy-osity was sealed forever.

“Closer” first presented itself to me with its sterile black and white cover, lack of credits and Roman serif type like a funeral program. The lying in state scene the cover depicted was like a classical Greek version of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” infused by pure black and white life and death reality. And it the music was just as hard like Sabbath, and undeniably great in its reaching for the outer orbits of existence and decoding them with simple lyrics that were carried downstream like so many scraps of paper like the reoccurring prophesies in “Finnegan’s Wake”: ever-returning, ever changing and yet the same. There were no photos of the band anywhere, either: which heightened their mystery, and the Spartan sleeve was about as sparse as the arrangements within. I felt myself transported into a netherworld twilight zone where all songs were -- to my mind -- suicide notes stuck onto the cleanest production as equally as precise. Every shard of the music stuck in my head and heart, like pieces of broken dreams quickly forgotten, and the entire album left me drained of all emotions. The lyrics seemed to hint at states generally left untapped in rock: it was something far grander, more plumbing of the depths than anything I had ever heard in my life in a perfect Black Sabbath meets Kraftwerk amalgamation. “Atrocity Exhibition” opened with buzzsaw drill guitars over a too-precise drum pattern in a syncopated pandemonium, and I was a goner. The lyrics were stripped down to a never-flinching objectivism that made me uneasy. Like Jim Morrison, it was putting me on the spot for being a voyeur to this emotional bloodbath, Ian Curtis now a weary spiritual gladiator in the coliseum. But the timelessness of the songs started rearing its head: Ancient Rome, 1940’s Russia: the place could be anywhere, but the lyrics all shared the same bloodlines of universal human experience. “Isolation” ended with a slight return that zigzagged through the room and my head and heart, and I was already feeling like an emotional pauper made poorer by the dizzying production. “Passover” was another total thrall-piece with slashing guitar parts and the lyric, “People who change for no reason at all.” And the steady drumming pumped on and died out moments before reaching the outer circuits of another inferno. By the time of the Iommi roar intro of “Colony” I KNEW that no pop singles were forthcoming, and was glad for it. “Colony” rocked on, and the lyrics began to point out timeless facts about civilisation, ghettos, scapegoats and love affairs in a Rorschach pattern where it could mean anything and everything at the same time. And it rocked out like crazy, like Sabbath ultra-stripped into an electronic Moroder mixdown. But even the ‘dance’ elements (like in “Isolation”) act more as sensitising agents than the more palliative applications hard rhythms had previously been used for in the past. All the tracks within are painted into their own corners; their only shared similarities are in expressing the inexpressible with as few, carefully chosen words as possible. Tight rhythms furrow over Curtis’ vocals, and “Means To An End”, a Bataan Death March of sharp hi-hats and Rickenbacker bass throttling over more Sabbath/Keith Levene guitar lines, is yet another mental note Curtis has placed in cracks of his own Wailing Wall, littered with departed wishes, hopes, dreams and fears. Bernard Albrecht’s SG ultra-strum balances between Buzzcocks and Sabbath in a symmetrical balancing act no metal band could ever dream of achieving in an industrial and near-Sabbath method: relentless, fearless and heavier than lead boots. After Curtis describes a place where “Where aging lovers toil” in a near-monotone intonation describing complete bleakness, the drum pattern slows into a low-pitched halt with a sickening lurch.

“Heart And Soul” begins the heavier and deeper atmosphere of side two. It is dark, airy terrain that is supremely aware of life with a drum pattern that can be easily perceived off-beat if you happened to enter the room mid-song. Curtis’ vocals are tomb-dry as he intones the whole track from a sealed environment, speaking as though a disembodied spirit is channeling through him during the chorus “Heart and soul/one will burn.” Thin guitar and synthesizer treatments lift the track into a single shaft of light out of the marble walls, and the cool and dry Martin Hammett production is egoless as can be -- Hannett only directed the sounds into their intended positions. It all fades and into the last prayer for redemption, “Twenty Four Hours.” Some -- any -- sort of spiritual balm or concession is seeked out, but there are none to be offered or found, despite the fact everything is shored up with regiments of punk guitar chiming and ever building basslines that all descent into quieter pools of sounds as Curtis’ gently reverbed vocals announce “Destiny unfolded/I watched it slip away.” Every second that ticks by seems to unravel another conflict between the known and loved, unknown and feared, until it all seems to twist into an impenetrable knot of emotions too multi-tiered and confounding to unravel...plus, time is running out.

Insect hissing opens “The Eternal”, the conflicts all resolved in a light bath of imagery from beyond the grave, or a Mongoloid child’s garden in Manchester, the perimeter as close as it is expansive at the same time. The day passes until it is over, and everything is muted in respect. It’s unreal: perched on the edge of so many preconceived notions about the passing of time, space and life itself into a nameless place inhabited by kindred but unknown souls. Spiky, Lesliefied-keyboards hang above an ever-returning piano line as a singly struck snare ricochets throughout. All thoughts are hollowed out by the atmosphere as the cricket hissing starts melting down, and a tiny piano coda is cut off abruptly. Not a track to be taken lightly, despite its quietness and beauty.

A broom strikes a deserted room’s wooden floor in a series of strokes, and Joy Division start a magnificent take on Them’s “It’s All over Now, Baby Blue,” as played in Paris on a Sunday afternoon in the spring directly after a rainstorm has passed, leaving sunlight to cast down on deserted boulevards carpeted white with tiny petals of blossoms. It’s truly the season of rebirth, and those who had loved, lost, felt pain or sadness are lifted by invisible arms upwards back to the beginning, where they can try, once more, to rise like victors in the face of all forces that oppose them. The coda begins to descend with weeping synthesizer, swelling mellotronics and a consistent hi-hat pattern that soon breaks into a question Ian Curtis asks repeatedly, echoed into the halls of humanity:

“Where have they been?
Where have they been?
Where have they been?
Where have they been?”

The now steady ride cymbal and further keyboard synthetics collect like fast motion clouds collecting and swarming overhead at high speed, Peter Hook’s baleful bass ever-rising. It all vanishes on the near horizon, with finality its now-reached agenda.

“Closer” is a psychological landscape where love was null and voided by a grim masquerade of deadened emotions, broken promises, eternal solitude and alienation, set to music played with emotion as raw as the recordings were technologically pristine.

It’s one of the few perfect albums in all of rock and roll.