I’ve been stalling on this one, to be honest, because it’s just too damn sad. From the first foreboding notes, to the opening line, “Oh, in silence, don’t walk away,” through the tension between the bass and the light synth tones and tambourines, “Atmosphere” is a beautiful, somber song that is the sound of a heart breaking.
The single was originally released in March, 1980 by a French label and then in May, 1980 by the Factory label. Although it charted three times in New Zealand, it didn’t chart in the UK until 1988 when it was reissued.
Anton Corbijn shot the video for “Atmosphere” in 1988, in his trademark black and white style. Hindsight presumably dictated the visuals; figures cloaked in black and white walk across a desert, at times carrying a photo of the band, with photos of Ian Curtis and Joy Division cutting between scenes.
Corbijn also directed Control, the Ian Curtis biopic (2007), and this song featured heavily in the movie, which was gut-wrenching to say the least. I hadn’t seen this video until I was gearing up to write this post, and my mind immediately went to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, an appropriate allusion, as the film focuses on a medieval knight who plays chess with Death:
This one is a favorite 80s song for me, but it’s difficult to really, really listen to it, given Ian Curtis’s suicide at such a young age. It’s mournful, but those twinkling synth notes and the tambourine almost sound like an uplifting warm embrace for the one who’s passed. Songs of dark beauty serve a purpose, even if we fear plunging into that darkness. I try not to linger there, but a song like this makes it a more bearable stay.