Music Box in 1980: Joy Division's "Closer"


I almost couldn’t decide on an album to pick from 1980, not because there was no good music, but because there wasn’t much that spoke to me. There’s not a favorite album of mine from 1980 or something with a personal meaning. So I just picked an album I like and that I knew would offer me something to write about, Joy Division’s Closer, which was released two months after Ian Curtis had committed suicide. It is unsurprisingly dark and cold, yet undeniably powerful.

The album opens with Atrocity Exhibition that invites us into an asylum that works like a circus, with the attractions being people who are mentally ill and violent. What an image it is, accompanied by a relentless percussion and the end of all hope in Curtis’ lyrics

Can't replace or relate, can't release or repair

Take my hand and I'll show you what was and will be

The next track is called Isolation and it easily functions as a theme for the nightmarish mood of the whole album. The paranoia of In fear every day, every evening, the pain of living as in [it] hurts just like anything else and the hopeless cry for help in

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.

After the end of the 70s, people moved beyond disillusion into complete anxiety. The last remains of hope were gone, nothing had changed and everyone seemed eager just to get ahead to somewhere, where they didn’t have to feel society’s clutches. Which didn’t mean escaping society, but trying to ignore that it kept them prisoners. Being ashamed of who you are is the ultimate trauma of this generation and a logical byproduct of our culture that asks us to deny our instincts and personalities, beginning at birth, and that forces us to do things we don’t want to do. Calling to mother reinforces that feeling of lost control, which makes many people look to authorities to help them.

Passover is a testament of pretending to be fine, but failing at it.

This is a crisis I knew had to come

Destroying the balance I'd kept

Doubting, unsettling and turning around

Wondering what will come next

Is this the role that you wanted to live?

From rejecting your identity to questioning the role society has offered you is an important step, that here never sounds like a revolution, but more like curious resignation.

Colony doesn’t change the mood by talking about a hint of anaesthesia and the sound from broken homes. A Means to an End actually has some hope and love, which maybe isn’t fully experienced or mutual, but at least it’s love.

In Heart and Soul we start right away with Instincts that can still betray us, again reminding us that instincts are not to be trusted in our culture. The song continues describing that inner conflict:

A journey that leads to the sun

Soulless and bent on destruction

A struggle between right and wrong.

Self-destructively struggling between good and evil, between those two extremes that are so often used as binary forces.

Existence well what does it matter?

I exist on the best terms I can

The past is now part of my future

The present is well out of hand.

Wow, what a downer. I know I’m repeating myself, but this captures the attitude of so many people in our society so well. Struggling to keep up with everyone, but barely succeeding, never knowing what the point to it all even is, feeling out of control and powerless in our own lives.

Is Twenty Four Hours the end of the aforementioned tentative love?

A cloud hangs over me, marks every move

Deep in the memory, of what once was love.

The last stanza even talks about therapy and treatment, making these lyrics even more explicit in exposing the psychological damage that the narrator has gone through, maybe not by love, but simply by living in this thankless culture.

The Eternal sounds like a funeral procession, again, desolate, hopeless, detached.

No words could explain, no actions determine

Just watching the trees and the leaves as they fall.

This felt pointlessness is another aspect that we see the more and more we walk through this culture, as we’re always told that we are doing such important things, but it gets harder and harder to convince ourselves that not all of it is pointless.

Decades finally talks about the young men and the assessment is not cheery.

We saw ourselves now as we never had seen

Portrayal of the trauma and degeneration

The sorrows we suffered and never were free.

Weary inside, now our heart's lost forever

Can't replace the fear, or the thrill of the chase

Each ritual showed up the door for our wanderings

Open then shut, then slammed in our face.

Where have they been?

Again, this collection of phrases says it all: weary, sorrow, suffer, fear, lost. Where have they been? Just to where we all still are. Call it civilization or society or Taker culture, it doesn’t really matter. The man singing those lyrics certainly had not been able to get closer to a better place.