Weekly Recommendation: Closer – Nine Inch Nails

For the first song review on this blog I’m going to do a song that is one of the most vulgar, controversial, and shocking songs popular music has ever had to offer. It also happens to be one of my favorite songs. Closer is the fifth song on Nine Inch Nails’ monumental second album¬†The Downward Spiral. The song was one of their most popular songs ever released and still receives radio airplay today, despite it’s subject matter and vulgarity. The lyrics are graphic and on the surface seem to serve no further purpose than of a primal and lustful need for sexual control, as seen in it’s infamous chorus line, “I wanna fuck you like an animal.” For people not acquainted with Nine Inch Nails (or darker music in general) it’s easy to write this song off as being nothing more than unnecessary, offensive, and sexist, but if you dig deeper into the lyrics, as well as understand the concept of the album as a whole, it speaks to something with much more depth.¬†The Downward Spiral is a concept album about a man who strips away all facets of humanity as he deals with drug abuse, depression, hints of split personality disorder, and a general dissatisfaction for the world and himself. Closer’s lyrics tell of a man who no longer finds joy or even meaning in his life (as well as the lives around him) and finds a small solace giving into raw sexual desire, “Help me get away from myself.” The music behind the lyrics is based around a downtempo bass line that plays throughout the majority of the song. This bass line in and of itself has a very dirty feel to it, giving the song a bigger sense of sexiness and lust. Around this bass line, layers of synthesizers, guitars, and drum patterns are added as the song goes on. After the 2nd chorus the song continues on as a (mostly) instrumental track with all these layers of instrumentation piling up but never diverting from the original feel of the bass line. The song ends as all but a piano cuts out as it plays a dark melody to fade into the next song on the album. One of the defining moments of this song, in my opinion, is one that is barely talked about because it’s barely noticed. During the long instrumental section there are actually some more lyrics set very far back in the mix. If you wanted a key reason as to why this is more than a grotesque song for pessimistic people to have sex to, these final lyrics are that reason. This is the narrator holding onto life by a strand with the final words being, “You are the reason I stay alive.” He’s doing whatever he can to feel something after giving in to his apathy in the previous songs. If that’s not deep then I don’t know what is. I normally am someone who picks the lesser known songs from a band as favorites, but this song is too good, too powerful, and too groovy (yes groovy) for me to say it’s not one of my favorite songs Trent Reznor has ever recorded. It’s a song that certainly will not appeal to everyone, but to those willing to let a lot of darkness into the music they listen to it’s an experience like no other. Instrumentation that mixes both real and digital instruments layered on top of each other, a non-linear songwriting style and structure, and lyrics that have been dragged through the mud. This song, more than any other in their discography, sums up what Nine Inch Nails is.