Closer to the edge Sounds 26/7/80
Album review by Dave McCullough

Closer to the edge

(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 
  '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             

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