July 1980: Joy Division Release CLOSER
During Joy Division's brief but dazzling tenure, the band's creative flame was blinding. With the group's debut album, Unknown Pleasures, barely in the rear view, Ian Curtis and company were chomping at the bit to record album number two.
“Before the paint was dry on it, we were writing more songs that would become the basis of Closer," drummer Stephen Morris revealed to GQ in 2020. "Unknown Pleasures was us finding our feet, it ends with 'I Remember Nothing' and that was kind of where we were going. The stuff that always influenced us was Berlin-period Bowie. We were getting more experimental. We were writing songs all the time. We always rehearsed. We were getting very professional.”
Indeed, as Joy Division moved their recording operation to London's Britannia Row studio, built by the band Pink Floyd in the mid-1970s. Working again with producer Martin Hannett, Joy Division brought a more refined and intuitive approach to the studio, honed through live shows and constant rehearsing.
"We were really, really, really tight as a band," Morris recalled. "I mean, we could just jam and you'd know what Hooky was gonna do next, you’d know what Bernard was going to do next and you'd know when Ian was going to start singing. Even if you've never played it before, you just sort of instinctively understood that. There was a lot of telepathy going on when we were making stuff on stage. When things broke down we'd do these spontaneous things.”
The group was stretching out and trying new concepts making the record, as Morris recalls of the track "Isolation": “The original idea was nothing like that. It was the first song we put together in the studio around synths, so it was changing all the time. The one thing I remember is listening to the playback of it and thinking this is a song that people could actually dance to. The music is really happy and then again it’s one of those afterwards when you listen to the bloody lyrics it wasn't really happy at all, was it? ['Isolation'] was kind of a signpost to the way we would eventually develop with New Order.”
Joy Division released Closer on July 18, 1980--two months to the day after singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. When it first hit shops in the UK, some fans were taken aback by the seemingly morbid cover art: a Bernard Pierre Wolff photograph of the Appiani family tomb at the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa, Italy.
"We were accused of cashing in on [Ian's] death," Bernard Sumner wrote in his book, Chapter And Verse: New Order, Joy Division and Me. "As if we would ever do anything like that. It tells you more about the people making the accusations than the band."
Closer was success for Factory Records, climbing the UK album chart to peak at #6. In New Zealand, it reached #3, and hit #4 in Scotland.
“The thing was that there was two personas, there was the Ian that hung out with us and was a good laugh and had lots and lots of fun. And then there was the persona that was expressed through his lyrics and they were, you know, poles apart, really, the two didn’t add up, and it was confusing," Bernard Sumner revealed to CNN this year. Sumner and Morris participated in an event at the UK Houses of Parliament, in London, to remember Curtis and to promote mental health in collaboration with the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).
“I tried every night to talk him out of it,” Sumner told Guardian. “He agreed with me but he was on a mission. It was going to happen. I don’t know what more we could have done.”