100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #15 Joy Division – Isolation

Released : 1980

Almost every book you read about Joy Division or Ian Curtis seems to have the same remarkable caveat, that despite the obvious mental torment being dissected in his incredibly personal lyrics, it wasn’t until towards the end of his life that his inner circle realised how dangerously pessimistic the singer’s frame of mind had become.

By the time they’d started to gain national recognition for their remarkable debut Unknown Pleasures Curtis had become hopelessly lost in a guilt-a-trois with Belgian music promoter Annik Honoré and his wife along with their infant daughter. The end result is well documented, the seemingly prescient adornment of their second album Closer with a picture of a tomb proving to be no more than an unhappy accident.

Curtis’ popular image was sealed in perpetuity by Love Will Tear Us Apart, a song which made his anguish plain but connected with the public at a level superficial enough to make it a posthumous hit. But Closer however was mostly a solemn, cavernous record locked in producer Martin Hannett’s austere trickery, one of the few other exceptions being Isolation, the words a note begging for contrition in plain sight as the singer crooned “Mother, I tried please believe me/I’m doing the best that I can/I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through/I’m ashamed of the person I am”.

Nobody at the point of it’s creation was even thinking about a new sonic direction; Joy Division after all were young men in their prime. But although they took exception unanimously to Hannett’s mix (as they had done on Unknown Pleasures), Isolation, with it’s krautrock disko beat and razor wire synth lines would ultimately be the path they would take without looking back. For those left behind, moving from one state to another was just a further consequence of a man’s unecessary death, one forever dogged by unknowable answers to inexhaustible questions.


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