Suicide is brainless
Trent Reznor: Leather-legged guru of the
demi-monde or prancing ponce on a self-pity tip? SIMON PRICE cranks up the new
album and whips up some answers
NINE INCH NAILS
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
Nothing/Island (ID 8012
Trent Reznor must have been bullied at school.
Why else would he need to keep showing the world how hard he is? Why call his
band something as self-consciously nasty as Nine Inch Nails?
It was surprising, then, when you actually put
needle to vinyl, to find that NIN were distinctly softcore, barely more
malevolent than The Mode or The Cure. “Pretty Hate Machine“, for instance, was
very black, but also very Decker. This wasn‘t heavy industrial, but Texas
Not that I‘ve ever swallowed the equation Hard
= Good, Soft = Crap. Au contraire, NIN‘s appeal lies directly in their plastic
lack of 4-Realness, and their subsequent desperation:
Reznor‘s reedy, nerdy voice, the way the line
“fist-fuck!“, on “Wish“ (ironically, precisely about the “is he/isn‘t the
fake?“ question), sounded awfully like “HEY,
LISTEN EVERYONE, I JUST SAID ‘FIST-FUCK‘ !!!
But Realism in Pop is a fallacy. Regardless of
whether a performer has actually experienced the emotions they describe, once
they hit the studio/stage they can only replicate those feelings. Yet millions
are willing to believe they‘re watching/hearing reality live via emotional CNN.
Look at Henry Rollins and his AmEx Gold, laughing all the way to the credibility
bank just cos his friend got shot (funny how the same never happened for Paul
McCartney. . .) Listen: in Pop, NOTHING IS REAL. It‘s pure theatre, and Trent
Reznor is a perfectly acceptable method actor.
“The Downward Spiral“ is — are you sitting
comfortably? — a Concept Album. The plot is as simple as the title suggests:
one man‘s helter-skelter descent through all the hatreds — misogyny,
anti-religious rage and, most likely, a sneaking distrust of small animals as
well — until finally, when there‘s no one left to blame, he hits the pit of
self-loathing and, on track 13, tops himself. (What were you expecting? “Shiny
Trouble is, Reznor is no poet. In fact, much of
“The Downward Spiral“ is adolescent pseudism run riot. You thought Brett was
losing it with all that stuff about “poison ram“ and “nuclear skies“? Well get this.
“You let me violate you/You let me desecrate you/You let me penetrate you. . .“
Great so far, right? But look what comes next when he runs out of rhymes. “You
let me complicate you.“ On “Eraser“, he begs the listener to “kill me“, safe in
the knowledge that nobody will (cos he isn‘t Bono or Axl, just that bloke out
of Nine Inch Nails). “Big Man With A Gun“ is a howlingly obvious pistol = penis
analogy. And how about “ The me that you know is now mode up of wires“? Quick,
call Numan‘s lawyer!
Enclosing the songsheet’s a dumb (ie excessively
honest) move. You‘d never catch Jourgensen doing that. Thankfully, these
lyrical atrocities are distorted beyond recognition by a pedal marked “Hi-De-Hi
Tannoy System“. So “Heresy“, a slightly naff 15-line attack on Christianity, is
reduced to a delightfully mangled “YOUR GOD IS DEAD AND NO ONE CARES!!!‘. Indeed,
the best bits always come when he ditches adolescent angst and regresses into
screaming infantile rage(“DON‘T YOU TELL ME HOW I FEEL!!!“, “I WANT TO F***
EVERYONE IN THE WORLD!!!‘).
Here‘s how to listen to “The Downward Spiral“:
go with the nasty, screamy flow, and don‘t worry too much about the text.
Because sonically, this is one giant step for Reznor-kind. Among the 200mph
metal machine music and strident Cold War electrobeats lurk unimagined surprises.
Like real, Cop Shoot Cop/The Birthday Party drumming. Like gentleness,
solemnity, beauty. Like the moment the Ministry-esque “March Of The Pigs“
(there‘s a running pig theme here) teasingly cuts to a lone, gentle piano. Or
“Eraser“, neatly performed on a £7.99 Do it All ratchet spanner. Above all, the
harrowingly suicidal title track, Reznor whispering “so much blood for such a tiny
hole. . .“ over a loop of muffled human screams.
In pop, the final result is everything. Against
all odds, a great LP.