When the gods of nasty sounds tacked audition cards
to the trees around town encouraging the brutes of industrial rock to brawl for
the crown, a small lad with a tuba was probably not what they had in mind for a
contender. His name was Michael Trent Reznor, and he also played sax and piano
and learned early in life how to engineer a recording-studio console. He
produced a terrific debut album called Pretty Hate Machine. Melodically
oriented and, because of record-company contractual problems, supported by what
became a three-year tour, it birthed the first real mainstream breakthrough for
industrial rock, selling over a million copies.
Following Brian Eno's example, Reznor unpacked his synth and threw away the
manual. In making The Downward Spiral, he encouraged the computer to
misconstrue input, willed it to spew out bloated, misshapen shards of sound that
pierced and lacerated the listener. As a companion piece to Baudelaire's "To the
Reader" -- the preface to his Flowers of Evil -- and second to the
Velvet Underground, there has never been better soul-lashing in rock.
I had a strange dream the other week. Lou Reed, myself and a friend known as
Warren Peace were having dinner in one of those old-style Greenwich Village
places where Pollock was supposed to have fought other painters. Our meal was
served by one of the members of Einst?rzende Neubauten. I slowly became aware of
the house music and that it was infuriatingly familiar. Our waiter, Blixa
Bargeld, leaned in to me and whispered, "The music is a birthday surprise for
Lou. Trent Reznor remixed this version of Metal Machine Music as a
As he said this, strands, splodges and blots from a Pollock early-Fifties
"drip" painting materialized in front of our faces. While the music got louder,
the paint hurtled around us faster and faster till we ran nauseous from the
cafe, chased by infernal screaming lavender, blue and black snakes.
And that is it, really. Trent's music, built as it is on the history of
industrial and mechanical sound experiments, contains a beauty that attracts and
repels in equal measure: Nietzsche's "God is dead" to a nightclubbing beat. And
always lifted, at the most needy moment, by a tantalizing melody.
I cannot believe that Spiral was released over ten years ago now. It
is absolutely time for him to bring on his new work. And from what I know of
him, it will be uncompromisingly effective, putting to shame and disqualifying
most of what passes as chart fodder. And, no, no one ever calls him Mickey.
(From RS 972, April 21, 2005)
Apr 22, 2005)