Four decades have now passed since Joy Division released Closer. It was their second album, released a year and three days after their groundbreaking debut, Unknown Pleasures, and it arrived in the gusts of a tragic aftermath — just two months prior, their lead vocalist Ian Curtis had passed away.
The context of the album’s release immediately imbued it with a morbid darkness, and that gloomy intrigue was only strengthened by its funereal aesthetic. The sombre album cover depicted a tomb, the studio production was icy and cobwebbed and, above all, Curtis’ lyrics were a portrait of a haunted, desperate mind.
In terms of pop culture adoration, Closer is often dwarfed by Unknown Pleasures — for one, there can’t be many album covers in the history of music that have quite such iconic status. But Closer deserves to be ranked among the finest albums of the 1980s, and its resonance still chimes today.
Here, we’ve picked out five albums that wouldn’t be the same without Closer — whether it’s just the one track, or an entire record.
New Order — Movement (1981)
Less than two weeks after the release of Closer, the three remaining members of Joy Division played their first gig as a trio — the inaugural outing of what would become New Order. The following year, they released Movement. It’s an album hailed by many as the link between the post-punk of Unknown Pleasures and the later synth-pop of New Order. And it was the embrace of synths on much of Closer gave the band the confidence to stride on with this new direction on Movement, beginning to shake loose the shackles of their guitar-heavy roots. Although they couldn’t have known it at the time, Closer was the impetus for what would eventually allow New Order to emerge from beneath Joy Division’s shadow.
Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
The strand of inspiration here is a clear one, with the Detroit rapper lifting the title of Closer’s opening track for his album name. But the influence runs far deeper than just a nominal connection — it guides the entire record. “That song, [Curtis] is pretty much talking about how he feels like he’s part of a freak show, almost,” Brown told Rolling Stone in 2016. “People just wanna come see him and they just wanna see him be a certain type of way. I totally relate to that”. The feeling of paranoid, detached otherness — the one that Curtis embodied so often — seeps through every crack of Brown’s haunting album, marking it out as one of the best rap records of the decade.
The Killers — Hot Fuss (2004)
The Killers were influenced by New Order from the very start — their band name was nabbed from a fictitious band in the video for New Order’s 2001 song Crystal — but there are echoes of Joy Division, especially their work on Closer, that bounce through the Las Vegas band’s debut album, too. “Bernard Sumner is kind of an underrated guitar player because he’s become known as a singer, but he’s a huge influence on me and you can definitely hear Joy Division all over the Killers,” guitarist Dave Keuning told the Guardian last year. He’s not wrong — it’s there in the angular lead of All These Things That I’ve Done, and the distorted, industrial swirls on Somebody Told Me.
Nine Inch Nails — Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
When Nine Inch Nails released their debut single, Down In It in 1989, they opted for a black cover adorned by three quivering white lines — the passing resemblance to the Unknown Pleasures was an early indication of Trent Reznor’s well-documented love of Joy Division. But when the debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, arrived later that year, it was Closer that sounded like the bigger influence. It showed just how much of a precursor to industrial rock Closer really was, with its stark, puncturing drums, squalls of guitars and razor-blade synths.
Talking Heads — Remain In Light (1980)
Influences are scattered all over Talking Heads’ masterful Remain In Light — from jagged funk and Fela Kuti’s sparking afrobeat to the dying embers of punk rock. Joy Division were there too — even though David Byrne and bandmates hadn’t actually heard any of their music. The final track, The Overload, was Talking Heads’ effort to emulate the Joy Division sound based purely on written descriptions of their music. They did a pretty incredible job, and while the fingerprints of Unknown Pleasures are certainly there, it’s a song that could easily have sat on Closer, with its glacial pace, despondent vocals and the all-pervading gloom of its electronics.