After the release and promotion of their previous album, Bilingual, Pet Shop Boys started work with playwright Jonathan Harvey on the stage musical that eventually became Closer to Heaven (at one stage during the writing process, the musical was given the name of 'Nightlife'). the band soon had an album's worth of tracks and decided to release Nightlife as a concept album and in order to showcase some of the songs that would eventually make it into the musical.
British vocalist Kylie Minogue co-vocalized 'In Denial' with Neil. This may have had some impact on her career which was in a slump at the time. She signed with Parlophone a year after her work on this track.
For the promotion of the album, the band adopted a stark new appearance, designed in consultation with theatre designer Ian McNeil. Now, the duo ubiquitously appeared wearing thick, dark eyebrows, inspired by Kabuki theatre; yellow or orange wigs in a variety of hairstyles, inspired by the punk subculture (especially several spiked wigs); and black sunglasses. This was supported by a series of outfits in dark, muted colours, the most deviant of which incorporated culottes, inspired by the attire of samurai, instead of trousers. Photographs involving the costumes, taken by Alexei Hay, were often set in urban environments; the Midland Grand Hotel in Kings Cross, London was used as the setting to debut the look. The costumes were used for promotional photographs, the album cover and liner notes, all the single covers, as well as the Nightlife Tour.
Some limited editions of the album were housed in a clear plastic slipcase instead of a jewel case. The CDs were housed in a gatefolded cardboard sleeve configuration.
A limited edition two-CD set of Nightlife was released in the United States. The bonus disc, titled Nightlife Extra, contained all the B-sides from the UK releases of the 'I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More' and 'New York City Boy' singles, as well as remixes of these singles, some of which were only available in the US on promotional releases.