Downward Spiral




ca. 1994?


The Downward Spiral


Autor: Simon Price


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



Nothing/Island (ID 8012

14iks/65mins/2 LP

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 Homecore music.

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 Happy People“?)

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.