If I’m counting correctly, we’re up to the fourth edition of Joy Division‘s two proper releases, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, with the latest being pegged as a “Collector’s Edition.” I did give pause about buying into these latest editions, figuring that they were nothing more than a blatant attempt at milking Anton Corbijn‘s film Control.
And believe me, as a Joy Division fan-boy, I know all too well about feeling used. A few years ago, I forked over a hefty sum for a limited edition import box set (Refractured) only to discover that my hard-earned money went to some cheap collectibles, two cds of poorly mastered live recordings, and a few supposedly “rarer” live tracks tacked on the end of one of those aforementioned recordings.
I bring this up because both of Joy Division’s reissued studio albums contain another pair of live recordings, meant to entice saps like me who have already purchased said studio albums in three prior editions. So that leaves the live recordings as the sole reason to consider this new package, which in itself presents some debate.
I can vouch that the majority of Joy Division’s live records are nothing more than audience recordings, often plagued by faulty equipment in addition to the low fidelity. Even the legitimate releases sound as shoddy as the boots, no mater what the packaging or catalog number, so an obligatory pause is always in order when considering “new” or “unreleased” or “live” Joy Division output.
Closer, in any form or any editions, is one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The album’s original nine tracks not only managed to surpass Unknown Pleasure‘s lofty wake, it provided an unachievable benchmark for anyone considering using the word “dark” in their band bio. “Unachievable” because Joy Division’s leader, Ian Curtis, lived every shade of black that he put on paper, and Closer is the sound of a band (and, to be entirely fair, the sound was enormously treated by producer Martin Hannett) providing a musical backdrop for a man who was contemplating ending his own life. It is one thing to suggest such a notion, but Ian Curtis meant it. A month-and-a-half after completing Closer, Ian Curtis proved the extent of his written discord by hanging himself.
It’s impossible not to talk about the tragedy when discussing Closer and, when you get down to it, its entire foundation is built upon Curtis’ unstable state of mind. This doesn’t in anyway discount the dark, atmospheric treatments and overall melancholia that runs throughout the album. Instead, the tragedy puts an additional layer of heaviness on each minor chord, every nervous synthesizer, and every resigned phrase that creeps from the speaker. Joy Division made a masterpiece with Closer but it took Curtis’ suicide to have everyone realize it.
The album is filled with clues. None of them sounds like a cry for help, but instead, they provide an exasperated eulogy of words that never manage to conceal the author’s magnitude of discontent.
Then there’s Curtis’ delivery itself, a weary baritone that sounds decades older than it actually was. Producer Martin Hannett wisely puts his treatments on almost every instrument except Curtis’ voice, understanding that it holds a deeper power on its own. He effectively captures the nuances of Ian’s performance rather than trying to add gradation to the mix.
Speaking of: the “Collector’s Edition” mix is a marked improvement over previous releases. I did notice a wider spectrum and, as a result, a few hidden performances that I hadn’t heard before. It seems to have been meticulously attended to, rather than just blindly “enhanced” with louder compression and slapshot mastering techniques.
The packaging provides a nice reproduction of the old Factory Records label and some thorough accounts of the album’s recording process and obligatory remembrances from all of the surviving members, who now seem to acknowledge Closer‘s greatness while admitting that they weren’t too keen on how the record sounded both during and after the sessions had ended. The biggest complaint was how different the band came across, particularly when compared to their live performances.
This is exactly why someone like me starts salivating at every fucking J.D. live recording that I come across. Joy Division was a less refined unit on stage and the live documents, regardless of how shitty the recordings are, clearly demonstrate this. There is less atmospherics and much more blunt trauma, occasionally transforming a track into a completely different beast.
Closer: The Collector’s Edition includes a show recorded in February of 1980, a few months before the album was released. The concert was recorded at the London University Union (Killing Joke was the supporting act) and the performance was previously made available as a bootleg entitled They Keep Calling Me. Again, there is no real improvement to the fidelity of that unauthorized release, but the band is very tight and aggressive. There are only a few examples of equipment problems and the crowd is very vocal. Since this is an audience recording, a “vocal” crowd means you’ll be noticing a few conversations and endure the never-ending barrage of song requests. With that being said, the performance is a worthy release that’s sure to please any hardcore fan of Joy Division while not being much of a requirement for anyone else.
But Closer, the proper album, is required listening by anyone who prides themselves on learning more about rock music’s array of genres and essential starting points of it even wider array of sub-genres. Joy Division is one of those bands who are probably responsible for a good three or four of those sub-genres today while directly impacting about a half dozen more.
And from that enormous black cloud of influence lies Closer, the band’s final offering. The “Collector’s Edition” release is exactly that: an edition created to entice those Joy Division collectors who already own it, but won’t be able to pass up the additional material that they probably know they don’t really need.
The single disc edition is enough for those who’ve yet to experience the most honestly bleak album ever put to tape by an ephemeral band who’s leader meant every word he sang.
This is the way. Step inside.