Nine Inch Nails – Closer

“Closer” is a song written by Trent Reznor and featured on the 1994 Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral. In mid-1994, the song was released as the second single from the album. Most versions of the single are titled “Closer to God“, a rare example in music of a single’s title differing from the […]

Closer” is a song written by Trent Reznor and featured on the 1994 Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral. In mid-1994, the song was released as the second single from the album. Most versions of the single are titled “Closer to God“, a rare example in music of a single’s title differing from the title of its A-side. (“Closer to God” is also the title of an alternate version of “Closer” featured on the single.) Labeled “Halo 9”, the single is the ninth official release.

Several broadcasting stations felt the song wasn’t appropriate to air when uncensored. A promotional single provided by the label to radio stations included both long and short vocal-censored-i.e.: silenced profanity-versions [1]. In spite of the blunt and profane sexual content contained in the song’s lyrics, “Closer” became Nine Inch Nails’ biggest hit up to that time, cemented Reznor’s status as an industrial rock superstar, and remains arguably his best-known song. Heavily edited versions of the song and its equally explicit and provocative Mark Romanek-directed music video received substantial airplay on radio and MTV.

The song

“Closer”‘s drum track features a heavily modified bass drum sample from the Iggy Pop song “Nightclubbing” from his album The Idiot.[1]

Radio edits of “Closer” were created by muting the vocal track for the duration of each deleted obscenity. In 2003, VH1 ranked the song at number 93 in its countdown of the “100 Greatest Songs Of The Past 25 Years.” The song was ranked at the number 2 position on AOL‘s “69 Sexiest Songs of All Time,” mostly due to the explicit frankness of its chorus.

In July 2009, the song was voted in at number 62 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 of all time, and in 2010 it was number 42 on Pitchfork Media’s Top 200 Tracks of the 90s.[2]

Music video

One of the many controversial images from the “Closer” music video.

The music video was directed by Mark Romanek and first aired on May 12, 1994, having been filmed in April of that year. It was cut down from its original length to 4:36. The video was popular and helped bolster the success of the band. The video shows events in what appears to be a 19th century-style mad-scientist’s laboratory that deals with religion, sexuality, animal cruelty, politics, and terror. It was somewhat controversial due to its imagery, which included a nude bald woman with a crucifix mask, a monkey tied to a cross, a pig’s head spinning on some type of machine, a diagram of a vulva, Reznor wearing an S&M mask while swinging in shackles, and of him wearing a ball gag. Several times, Reznor, wearing leather pants, floats and rotates through the air, suspended by invisible wires. There are also scenes of Reznor being blown back by a wind machine while wearing aviator goggles.

These images seem to be inspired by the art of Joel-Peter Witkin, as well as Francis Bacon (artist) and George Tooker. The video is also very heavily inspired by the Brothers Quay film Street of Crocodiles, with much of the video being a live-action recreation of the sets and scenes from that film. For the television version, certain removed scenes were replaced with a title card that read “Scene Missing,” and the instances of the word “fuck” being edited out were accompanied by a stop in the video motion, making it appear as if the stop was a result of defective film (this was done to make sure the flow of the song was not affected). The video has a stylized, old-film look due to Reznor purchasing an old canister of unexposed film from the early part of the 20th century to record it on.[citation needed] It is also one of two videos directed by Romanek that the Museum of Modern Art has added to its permanent collection. The other is Madonna‘s “Bedtime Story“.

The unedited version of this video was shown on Playboy TV‘s music video show Hot Rocks in 1994. In mid-2002, the unedited version of this video was aired on MTV2 as part of a special countdown showcasing the most controversial videos ever to air on MTV. This countdown was only shown late at night due to the graphic imagery of “Closer” and several other videos.

In 2006, “Closer” was voted number one in a VH1 Classic poll titled “20 Greatest Music Videos of All Time.” [3]

In retrospect, Reznor commented about the video that “The rarest of things occurred: where the song sounded better to me, seeing it with the video. And it’s my song.”

The unedited video is included in Closure, The Downward Spiral (DualDisc) and Directors Label Volume 4: The Work Of Director Mark Romanek, and it is available for download from iTunes under the band’s page. Behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by Romanek is included in Closure (DVD) and Directors Label.

Music charts

“Closer” had some radio airplay before it was released as a single. This factor increased within weeks, leading Interscope to release the song in May 1994.

When it premiered, the single charted on several Billboard magazine music charts; debuting near the bottom spot of the Billboard Hot 100, it missed the Top 40 spot (peaking at number 41). It crawled to number 11 on the Modern Rock Tracks, and went on to reach number 35 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks, number 29 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles, and number 29 Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales. The single’s highest peak is the Top 5 on the Canadian Singles Chart. “Closer” did not top any of these charts, and failed to reach number one.

Live performance

During the Self Destruct and Fragility tours, bassist Danny Lohner and guitarist Robin Finck joined Reznor on keyboards for the song, with Reznor performing an extended synth solo.

There are performance videos of “Closer” on And All that Could Have Been and Beside You in Time.

In the tours following the release of With Teeth, Nine Inch Nails performed a shorter version of “Closer” with the keyboard solo played as a guitar solo and a breakdown incorporating a portion of “The Only Time”, a track from Pretty Hate Machine. Two performances of this version of the song this appear on Beside You in Time.

The single

The version of “Closer” on the single is 13 seconds longer than the album version; on the album, the piano tune at the end of the song is abruptly cut off in order to segue into the next track, “Ruiner”. On the single, “Closer’s” piano and background sounds are allowed to play out longer.

In addition, the U.S. CD single contains five remixes of “Closer”, a remix of its fellow The Downward Spiral track “Heresy”, an instrumental track “March of the Fuckheads” (unrelated to March of the Pigs), and a cover version of Soft Cell‘s song “Memorabilia”, from their 1982 album Non-stop Ecstatic Dancing. The UK single releases contain the same tracks split between two discs (each sold separately). A cassette single was issued in the U.S. and Australia, pairing “Closer” with a live-performance version of NIN’s previous single, “March of the Pigs.”

U.S. CD

Track listing

  1. “Closer to God” (Remixed by Trent Reznor, Sean Beavan, Brian Pollack) – 5:05
  2. “Closer (Precursor)” (Remixed by Coil, Danny Hyde) – 7:16
  3. “Closer (Deviation)” (Remixed by Jack Dangers, Craig Silvey) – 6:15
  4. “Heresy (Blind)” (Remixed by Dave Ogilvie, Anthony Valcic, Joe Bisara) – 5:32
  5. “Memorabilia” – 7:21
  6. “Closer (Internal)” (Remixed by Bill Kennedy, Scott Humphrey, John “Geetus” Aguto, Paul Decarli, Eric Claudiex) – 4:15
  7. “March of the Fuckheads” (Remixed by Adrian Sherwood) – 4:43
  8. “Closer (Further Away)” (Remixed by Kennedy, Humphrey, Aguto, Decarli, Claudiex) – 5:45
  9. “Closer” – 6:26


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