Twenty years after it was recorded for 1994's The Downward Spiral in the house of the Sharon Tate murders, "Closer" remains the most outré jam that Tommy Lee has ever had sex on a swing to. The direct vulgarity of the chorus ("I wanna fuck you like an animal") helped the song cross over in the most mid-'90s of ways, but today what remains fascinating and shocking about "Closer" is the depth of the production — every 808 tick, bass squelch, synth echo, and feedback growl — and how it still congeals into a beat so darkly, ecstatically funky that it must've made the guys in Depeche Mode slam their heads against the wall. With his demanding studio obsessiveness and howling personal demons, Trent Reznor was basically the Brian Wilson of the alt-rock '90s, and "Closer" was his perverted, self-loathing "God Only Knows."
Compared to a slacker anthem like "Loser" or "Longview," "Closer" may not seem like a definitive 1994 song at first blush, but that's only because it's so transcendent as a pop song that it could have been released at just about any time between now and then and been just as brutally effective. Ten years from now, some unprepared kid will accidentally stumble across the video for "Closer" and be so terrified that they won't be able to sleep at night, but they'll still end up streaming The Downward Spiral for the first time the next day. A.U.