Industrial / Metal / Rock

Rediscovery: Nine Inch Nails

Bear with me here, this is going to be a long one. But there’s a lot to talk about, and it’s all worth a read.

Rediscovery is what I do best. I have stacks of CDs that range all decades and pretty much all genres. I have just as many MORE loaded to my computers, archive data discs and now my smartphone and iPad. Being a music addict is hard work.

I won’t lie about the tweet I saw come across my Twitter feed less than a month ago. Nine Inch Nails is going to tour again. Trent Reznor is banding together the troops to set out. To say I was ecstatic was an understatement. My desk chair slammed against the wall behind my desk because I jumped up from my computer so quick. I fist pumped. I danced. And yes, I was at work in a full news room when I did this.

Nine Inch Nails was my first foray waaaaaaay back into industrialized metal/rock. I was 6 when “Head Like a Hole” came out and I remember watching the video on MTV at my father’s parents house (my parents couldn’t  get cable at our house back then) and falling in love. Not even a full decade old yet and I was hooked. My parents were pretty lenient with us kids growing up, but my mother was firm in not letting me get the Pretty Hate Machine cassette. When the Downward Spiral came out when I was 11, my mother finally caved and let me buy it. I’m sure when she heard “I want to fuck you like an animal” or “I am a big man yes I am and I have a big gun” come blaring out of my little radio’s speakers, she regretted her decision.

To say I have all of NIN’s albums is an understatement. I have the full Halo collection. They all regularly get played (or watched). But I go through my phases of rediscovery with NIN the most. For weeks on end, I’ll continuously loop all of the albums together. Listening to the progression, the growth, the change that has become regular face with Trent Reznor.

I love the rawness of Pretty Hate Machine. The show previews for Game of Thrones playing a varied version of “Something I Can Never Have” was pretty awesome to hear. Broken and Fixed, though short, are often found on my workout playlist. Reznor’s remake of Adam Ant’s “Physical (You’re So)” is often belted out when I’m vacuuming and trying to channel my inner early ’90s rock star persona. The love for that rawness doesn’t just stem from Reznor’s vocals, it’s the music behind him. I know for the time period the first few albums came out, it was high tech industrialization. It was the sh*t. But with technology in music’s own progression, it’s pretty primitive and that’s what makes it so great to listen to today in 2013. And come on, Reznor raps, yes RAPS in “Down In It”, that’s gold all on its own.

The Downward Spiral was, is and always will be amazing. Not just for the controversy, but for the content. Or at least the content in my eyes. With songs like “Closer” and “Hurt” (later to be remade by Johnny Cash), it was hard to not find what I call ear bliss within the album. Spiral moves a little forward with programmed sounds, giving the songs more depth behind Reznor’s vocals. In “The Becoming” you have the sounds of people screaming, crying, shouting as he’s singing “I beat the machine, it’s a part of me, it’s inside of me. I’m stuck in this dream, it’s changing me. I am becoming.” The piano is also pretty heavily used throughout the album, which in my opinion, completes it. Rounding it out and making it whole.

Then came the double-disc masterpiece saga, The Fragile. I actually was late to class in high school the day that it was released. I skipped the last half of a study hall to literally sprint down to the record store to buy it. It was still NIN even though Reznor looked A LOT different (short hair, muscles). It was still NIN, even though Reznor collaborated with Dr. Dre on the track “Even Deeper”. It was still NIN even though all in all, it was different. I know, that is just a load of holy-what-the-heck, but it’s true. The Fragile hooked me in a completely different way. It steered away from the progressive industrial metal that I knew NIN to be and sort of formed its own niche in the music world. NIN no longer fell into a pre-set genre. The Fragile cemented NIN as its OWN genre. “We’re in this Together” spawned a video that I just couldn’t stop watching. At the MTV Video Music awards, Reznor giving a pretty stellar, vocally emotional performance of “The Fragile”. Some fans hated it, I couldn’t get enough of it. I still can’t. The Fragile still holds on pretty tightly to me, 14 years after its release.

Torture set in again when I realized it was going to be another long wait for the next NIN album to drop. Luckily, all the pretty little Halos came out in between to keep me busy. When With Teeth finally hit, once I again, I was pulled in deep. After a double disc set up from The Fragile, With Teeth seems short, but it doesn’t make it any less worth listening to. “The Hand that Feeds” and “With Teeth” are the two obvious ones to hit on first. “The Hand that Feeds” is a mover. Not in the make you cry way, but the get off your ass and shake it way. My foot taps, my hands air drum, my head bobs. I can’t stop the movement, it just comes. “With Teeth”, I’ve discovered is an amazing running song. Just don’t get caught singing it when you run by someone, you’ll get some odd looks. Especially when you’re shouting “With-ah Teeth-ah” just like Reznor does in the chorus line. “Only” is borderline poppy, which made me a little nervous about where Reznor may be going. It’s got a chipper drum line, a happy, clunky guitar riff and funky, catchy programmed sounds in the background. Now, the only thing that steers you away from the poppyness of it – is the words “I just made you up to hurt myself. And it worked, yes it did… There is no fucking you, there is only me.” The rest of With Teeth blends almost seemlessly with The Fragile in terms of sound and lyrical content.

Year Zero closed the wait gap from previous albums. Year Zero was also a “Hold up, wait a minute, what?” for me when I first put the CD in and hit play. I liked what I heard, but I was a little “What the hell?!” at first. Year Zero is catchy as hell. It doesn’t fit anywhere, standing all on its own in the corner – even away from NIN’s other releases. So there goes Reznor again, redefining genres. A more ‘political’ based album, it’s full of new sounds, again, some of them skirting that popish sound. Y34RZ3r0r3mix3d followed, and included that awesome second disc that gave you the ability to remix the songs yourself on the computer. Reznor had the NIN site set up so that you could submit your creations and download other fans’ as well. I would sit for HOURS creating my own ‘masterpieces’. A good chunk of my weight training mix was remixes from the site that I had loaded to my iPod. The remixes spawned, for a time period, an animal all on its own.

Ghosts I-IV was a little different for me. It’s the one that I only put on when I need complete quiet. I write to it often and have to give credit to it because I wrote about 75% of my last book with it in the background. The Slip came out that same year and would be the last CD we’d see from NIN. The Slip went a little unnoticed in my opinion. It was released without any marketing push, quietly, for free, to fans on the site. It’s kind of sad that it flew under the radar beacause it’s a great album. “Letting You” is what you would get if you took the span of the 20 years NIN had been around at the time and mashed them all together. “Discipline” carried over the sound that you heard in the last two albums, while “Echoplex” had techno-like beats colliding with the funky progressive sounds a la NIN. The creme of the crop is without a doubt “Lights in the Sky”. It’s one of those songs that just grips you not just lyrically, but in sound as well (Reznor brings the piano back in the track).

Five years later, after a lot of touring, Reznor announcing that NIN would have to disappear for awhile, a few movie scores and a side project with wife Mariqueen Maandig and Atticus Ross (How To Destroy Angels), NIN is returning. To sum it up in two words? Fuck yes.

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