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Music

Joy Division's Ian Curtis considered 'Closer' a "disaster"

Artists rarely hold their work in the same regard as their fans. Look at John Lennon, who effectively disowned ‘Eight Days A Week’ and ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ in an effort to reinvent himself as a feminist ally of some repute. Look at Mick Jagger, who has repeatedly distanced himself from Exile On Main St., feeling that it doesn’t represent the band at their zenith. And look at Thom Yorke, who basically despises ‘Creep’. Again, artists very rarely give a concrete overview of the albums we fans slavishly listen to again and again and again, but there’s something decidedly tragic about Ian Curtis’ opinion of Closer, which presented something of a codicil for him and for Joy Division.

In a letter written for Rob Gretton, the singer explained his issues and grievances with the finished product. “Judged purely on my own terms,” he wrote, “And not to be interpreted as an opinion or reflection of mass media or public taste but a criticism of my own esoteric and elitist mind of which the mysteries of life are very few and beside which the grace of God has deemed to indicate in a vision the true nature of all things, plus the fact that everyone else are a sneaky, japing load of tossers, I decree that this LP is a disaster.”

As many of you undoubtedly know, Curtis took his own life before he could travel to America to play the album. It’s difficult to imagine whether or not his personal demons clouded his view of the album, and although the finished product lacks the spark of Unknown Pleasures, his view that the album was a “disaster” is a little out of sorts, particularly since it boasts such strong fodder as ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ and ‘Passover’. The lyrics, dense atmosphere and air of taut, turbo-charged nihilism was influential on 1990s bands Suede, Manic Street Preachers and countless others.

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The album proved that music could be intellectual as well as edgy, and unlike the barrelling excesses of fellow Manchester bands, the songs were deeply committed to letting the band shine in their individual domains, creating a mosaic of sound that only grew more agitated and angry with every passing chord. And such is the power of the work, it bellows through the speakers with the might and gush of a wind, sailing through the speakers with the might of a warrior at work.

It’s a deeply meditative album, which is impressive for a band who were so young, and so sure of their abilities to meld the genre to their will. In Peter Hook, they had a bass player who played like a guitar player; in Bernard Sumner, they had a guitarist who was happiest playing keyboards; and in Stephen Morris, they had a keyboardist who enjoyed playing percussion. Together, they created something grand sounding, which is why they pooled their resources together, and such was the power of the music, they were able to carry on without Curtis as the schmaltzier sounding New Order.

The band as a whole were determined to create something that would stand the test of time, and the lyrics were as ravenous and as purging as the bass fills that cemented the backdrop. The live shows were a combination of electricity and jagged danger, pulverising through the backdrop, cementing a painting of sound that was aching to culminate in an explosion of sound, pre-empting a sense of passion, power and penance that stemmed from the band’s commitment to their craft. As such the songs were crisp, clear, and brimming with possibility.

No matter what Curtis felt about the album, there are millions who disagree with this particular assertion, feeling that his ambition, and angular form of thinking helped to spearhead the pastoral, lo-fi backdrop that made the band stand out in the sea of Manchester outfits. But it wasn’t their sound demonstration that made them seem so collectively explosive, it was their sense of purpose and pathos, particularly in the backdrop of the changing decade.

It was the love of music that brought them together, much as it was love that drove them apart. But Curtis was one in a million, one in a generation, and a poet among rockers.