Hey there! Welcome to Teatro Triste del Clown.
This site started out as something else and then a few years ago, we got it into our head that we were going to write about every song in our music collection. Memo and I have been doing this for years – I’m going forward in the alphabet and just recently started on the letter J and Memo, as it happens, is also on the letter J. As of this writing. It might be a while before I update this pinned announcement again, so, well, yeah.
For a brief overview of my limitations as a music writer, click here. Memo writes with considerably more intelligence than I!
Our Webmaster, Christoph, joins us from time to time.
The Index of what we’ve done so far keeps growing.
If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a line.
Album cover video:
Joy Divisions’ 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures, is justly revered as one of the finest first albums ever. Even the cover art is iconic.
The band significantly honed their sound as they warmed up to Martin Hannett’s production style, so one could make an argument that Closer represents a grander vision of what Joy Division could have become, but Unknown Pleasures finds a seasoned band recorded a self-assured, polished and complete record. If it leaves you wanting more, its by design and not by omission.
“Disorder” opens the record with a couplet that could be the career defining question for Curtis:
I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand,
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?
I often find Curtis’ singing to be filled with understated emotion – you know how he’s feeling, but he never pushes it in your face. On ‘Disorder”, he builds to a genuine extroverted emotional climax, singing the word “feeling” over and over with a kind of desperate fervor.
A very compelling opening to a classic record.
Album cover video:
Anchored by a sort of naive keyboard line, “Decades” closes Closer. I have no idea whether this was the actual final song recorded by Joy Division, but its perhaps not so hard to hear how Joy Division moved from “Decades” to New Order’s “Ceremony:”
Indeed, “Ceremony” was the last song written with Curtis and was recorded by Joy Division:
We’ll talk about Bernard Sumner finding his voice when we get to New Order (If I remember) but he does a passable Ian Curtis impression on the new Order version of “Ceremony.”
None of that really tells you anything about “Decades.”
Album cover video:
I could be wrong, of course, but “The Eternal” seems to describe a funeral and burial from the perspective of a child. The highlight of the song for me is the haunting keyboard figure that dances through the intervals between verses. The keyboard work in particular sounds like it influenced The Cure’s entire ouevre (though, of course, the bands were contemporaries and in 1980 The Cure were already creating some pretty dark shit).
I’ve discussed before – particularly in reference to Big Star and Gram Parsons – that the curse of being an innovator is that even if you get somewhere first, there’s a whole group of people behind you who will make more of it than you did. While I believe that Joy Division still sound relevant and haunting today, so many bands ran with their same sound that its sometimes hard to recognize how ground breaking their music sounds in 1979-80.
“Twenty Four Hours” is, perhaps, the clearest example of this. Gloomy but dance-able (due in part to Stephen Morris’ steady-as-a-rock drumming), “Twenty Four Hours” features a sort of dueling-banjos back and forth between Ian Curtis’ lyrics and (what sounds to me like) Peter Hook’s bass. When the whole band kicks in together, it gets considerably louder but no less dark. the lyrics capture Curtis’ loneliness and despair. Depression often makes you feel like you’re completely alone – part because it lies to you but in part because people genuinely don’t like being around depressed people. It can be agonizing.
“24 Hours” is rightly seen as one of Joy Division’s masterpieces. It would have been fascinating to have seen where the band would have gone in the 80’s if he’d lived.
Not to be confused with this “Heart and Soul.” Or this one:
There’s almost no guitar in “Heart and Soul” until around the 3 minute mark. Up to that point, vocalist Curtis is front and center, backed by some excellent (and harrowing) drum and bass work. The lyrics describe a painful choice between heart and soul. One of the two, as the song says, will burn.
Its been a few weeks since we last updated this site – on my end because I started playing World of Warcraft again. Fortunately (?), the new expansion has created crazy long wait times, so I have plenty of time to start updating again.
Album cover video:
Stephen Morris uses a little more metal in his drumming on “A Means To An End,” which creates a little bit of a different atmosphere than on the other tracks. The lyrics repeat the phrase “I put my trust in you” over and over again but ultimately suggest betrayal – as if the singer feels he was used as a means to an end by the person he’s singing to. Again, powerful song with some amazing guitar and bass work – typical of Joy Division!
Album cover video:
“Colony” is built around a choppy rhythm line created by bass, drum and guitar – though Sumner punctuates the piece with guitar solo work. I hear hints of the sort of melody lines Sumner would later build in New Order, though he’s playing through a bit more distortion here. His work becomes a little cleaner (though no less sharp) in the coming decade.
Curtis, of course, would be gone less than a year after this album was released and its hard now not to read some of his anguish into his lyrics.
You can really hear the Can influence at the start of “Passover.” I love Bernard Sumner’s guitar work at this one. You’ll note that instead of a chorus, the structure of the song consists of Ian Curtis’ vocal and Sumner’s guitar work trading off over a relentless bass/drum line. This puts an added emphasis on the lyric (and the vocal melody is great – I wish I’d invented it) but also let Sumner build up a real atmosphere of dread. The combination makes for an especially powerful song and one of my favorite’s on Closer.
Peter Hook’s bass work really is exceptional.
“Isolation” features the kind of synthesizer line that the band would come to define the sound of New Order. However, in the latter band, that synth line would have been pushed to the front. Here, it is balanced a little more with the rest of the band.
Ian Curtis’ lyrics suggest that the titular isolation is the sort of loneliness an artist experiences when they realize they’re the only one who can see the beauty they’re trying to describe in their art. Well, that’s how I interpret it. Its bleak, but not without hope – not hope, perhaps, but a recognition that there are some beautiful things.
Track Eighteen from 2006’s Humid Teenage Mediocrity 1992-1996 was originally released on the 1995 Demo Cannibal Song Book. was later Officially released as Track Twelve on their 1997 debt album Sexless Demons and Scars which I already discussed my interpretation of. So the onerous comparison between the released demo version and the quasi-polished officially released version now falls upon my shoulders.
Irregardless of the daunting challenge, I must engage. However, there is not htat much of a discernible difference except a few nuances, so instead how about some comparative fluff…
How about we sign it in ASL? Dirty Signs with Kristin is a channel I follow and she will teach us how to sign “Cum Dumpster.”
Original 1995 Demo release
Remastered Version is at 46:17
Live in 1995
Live in 1998