Reznor‘s new record has hardened into something far more aggressive and colder
than Pretty Hate Machine.
Has Nine Inch Nails‘
Reznor traded tunefulness for bile?
Hell hath no fury like a musician pissed off at
some one who‘s burned him. When Nine Inch Nails recorded its debut, Pretty Hate Machine (TVT), three years
ago, creator Trent Reznor was probably inspired more by his private, romantic
hell than anything else.
(Atlantic/Interscope/ TVT), the new Nine Inch Nails EP, finds Trent still plenty lathered up over the
intimacies of obsession and betrayal. But a hate affair between Reznor and the
label that released his debut, TVT, has also blossomed into something vicious,
no doubt adding to the white-hot rage of Broken. (“I‘m on the worst record
label on the planet and I keep getting this finger stuck up my ass, so there‘s
plenty of things to hate life about,“ he said in an interview last year.) Legal
struggles with TVT have helped delay the release of new NIN material until now.
For months Reznor (NIN is his solo project;
hired guys play with him live) has been warning that his music has hardened
into something far more aggressive and colder than Pretty Hate Machine. “A lot of our newest fans are attaching
themselves to a side of NIN that doesn‘t exist any more,“ he told Spin magazine
may alienate fans who loved Pretty Hate
Machine for the way it used electronic gadgetry to unload some of the most
visceral, organic noises this side of a harakiri session. Although the record
got NIN lumped into the “industrial“ category, that said beans about the
melodies, the earthiness, and the emotion al hunger lurking beneath the
blinding fury — a combination that has kept it on the charts after almost two
years. Broken is less interesting
because it lacks the distinct glimmer of hope and tenderness — poetically
direct lyrics and tattered pop tunefulness — that made Pretty Hate Machine such an alluring contradiction.
Too bad Broken
must be measured against the greatness of Pretty
Hate Machine, because it is at times potent and expressive in its own
right. Reznor‘s facility with words, specifically those that speak of broken
trust, often makes the nastiest parts of the recording less off-putting. But
overall Broken is just too discordant
and monotonous in its attack.
Perhaps Reznor himself recognizes this. In a
publicity statement accompanying the tape, he writes, “Broken was a hard recording to make. Broken is an ugly record made during an ugly time in my life.“
Cynics can scoff and slag Nine Inch Nails for its shameless self-indulgence,
but often there‘s not much of a leap from the personal to the universal. And
there‘s a dark comic quality in the way Reznor bares his guts. In the liner
notes, after thanking various persons, he goes so far as to add a “no thanks“
to “you know who you fucking are.“ You‘d have to conclude that Reznor‘s not a
real mirthful type of guy. Then again, maybe he‘s sly enough to see the wit in
Broken starts with the slow, heavy
Synthesizer riff of “Wish,“ then jumps into a percussive roar that sets the
pace for the rest of the record. “Wish there was some thing real, wish there
was something true, in this world full of you,“ Reznor screams, never letting
up. And therein lies a good part of Broken‘s
weakness: when a guy has a seething-but-tuneful voice like Reznor‘s, it hurts
to hear him turn it into something so unpalatable — even grating. Sure, power
can be born of frenzy; “Head like a Hole“ was a good example. But that small
hit from Pretty Hate Machine was so
lethal because of its structure, the way it rose up out of coolly controlled
menace to smack you in the cranium.
On “Last,“ Reznor electronically distorts his
voice, transforming it into an unrecognizable heavy-metal growl that matches
the leaden flail of guitars. “This isn‘t meant to last. This is for right now!“
he declares. Alas, the existential urgency isn‘t pointed enough to prevent
your’re calling that other bands (notably Ministry, on their latest) have
married heavy metal and industrial musics far more gracefully.
But no gripes can stain such a glorious number
as “Happiness in Slavery,“ on which Reznor demonstrates that he can still force
machinery to spit out some of the angriest, most evocative music imaginable.
Partly because it sits on an irresistible pounding beat, “Happiness“ does not
challenge appreciation the way much of Broken
does. Hell, give us a good dance beat and we‘ll give you the moon.
There‘s more to “Happiness“ than a mighty
groove. Reznor fulfills the promise of Pretty
Hate Machine by throwing forth his passion full-force, then backing off
enough to allow it to turn into a song, not a lot of random venom. “I‘ve found
you can find happiness in slavery,“ he sings, and it‘s enough to make a body‘s mouth
water in anticipation of the next Nine Inch Nails album, which is due early
next year and which will offer all-new material. Maybe by then, Trent will have harnessed his rage into
the crafty structure that gave him “Happiness in Slavery.“