Following the June 1980 posthumous release of Joy Division's non-album hit single "Love Will Tear Us Apart", the remaining members re-formed as New Order. Today, Closer is widely recognised as one of the major releases of the post-punk era.
The songs on Closer were drawn from two distinct periods. The earlier guitar-driven compositions were written during the latter half of 1979: "Atrocity Exhibition", "Passover", "Colony", "A Means to an End" and "24 Hours". All were played live during that year, with some being recorded for various radio sessions. The album's other songs were written in early 1980, and included more prominent use of synthesisers: "Isolation", "Heart and Soul", "The Eternal" and "Decades". Most songs were written or structured during jam sessions in the band's practice room. Regarding the album's lyrical content, Bernard Sumner recollected: "We'd go to rehearsals and sit around and talk about really banal things. We'd do that until we couldn't talk about banal things any more, then we'd pick up our instruments and record into a little cassette player. We didn't talk about the music or the lyrics very much. We never analysed it."
Closer was recorded between 18–30 March 1980 at Britannia Row Studios in Islington, London. It was produced by Martin Hannett. His production has been highly praised, with Pitchfork describing it as "sepulchral." However, as with their debut album, both Hook and Sumner were unhappy with Hannett's work. Peter Hook later complained that the track "Atrocity Exhibition" was mixed on one of his days off, and when he heard the final product was disappointed that the abrasiveness of his guitar part had been laden with effects and toned down. He wrote; "I was like, head in hands, oh fucking hell, it's happening again. Unknown Pleasures number two ... Martin had melted the guitar with his Marshall Time Waster. Made it sound like somebody strangling a cat, and to my mind, absolutely killed the song. I was so annoyed with him and went in and gave him a piece of my mind but he just turned around and told me to fuck off."
Bernard Sumner, recollecting on Ian Curtis's mindset during the recording sessions for Closer. October 2007.