For a long time now a crucial prerequisite of a number one has been that it must be about nothing. I’m not being a snob when I say that, it’s just true. The lyrics must not draw attention to themselves by actually being about anything; any theme more complex than the desire for one dance or the promise to jump into cold water might distract attention from the noise. Closer, however, is the most radical chart topper in what may be decades because its lyrics are actually about things.
The relationship the song’s two narrators once shared was torn apart because each had to “move to the city in a broke down car”. Penniless, forced to steal from room-mates, and having to resort to jobs like “looking pretty in a hotel bar”, the pair criss-cross America, from Boulder to Tuscon, in a vain search for prosperity, or failing that, stability. The fact that the two narrators sing the song to each other suggests some sort of reconciliation after “four years [of] no calls”, during which time the land of opportunity has proved stagnant. The young couple “ain’t never getting older” because they, much like the country they have so extensively travelled in search of a job, seem incapable of any real development. It is not quite clear whether this is a love song or a eulogy.
Rather than being a vapid dose of R&B narcissism, Closer is a song which seems to have emerged from an authentic sense of a national frustration. Whereas number ones are usually set (and written with the intention of being played in) an exclusive LA club, this one reflects the sentiment of the millions of unemployed young Americans who are still living in the long shadow cast by the Reagan administration and have only the prospect of choosing between a racist and a war criminal to look forward to.
Out of the vivid unreality of the chart music scene has emerged a real song, and whilst it might not yet signal the dawn of a new era for pop, we at least seem to be getting Closer.