Never Gone: Nine Inch Nails

nin

Since T.Rez announced Nine Inch Nails’ comeback, I’m so excited guys, because I love NIN madly, like forever in my whole existence. Reznor says he’s re-imagining the whole NIN concept, which doesn’t worry me at all. Reinvention paves the way to new and original things. If his recent work is anything to go by, I’m going to be very pleased. Put aside the haterade, people.

In celebration of NIN ending their indefinite hiatus, here’s short list of my fave tracks. (Cos I’m such a fangirl, duh.)

Closer

Easily the most sexually charged piece in NIN’s discography (in my opinion), Closer’s director’s cut of the music video made grotesque more hip and confounding than Silent Hill did when it broke into its own scene of rust-caked dilapidation. With its visually arresting sepia-toned imagery of a rotating pig’s head, a monkey tied to a crucifix and Trent himself shackled in BDSM gear (among other things), this was one song that called for an open mind and ears prepped for some pulsating synths that stroked you from your brain to your pants. Go to anthem for angry and/or horny teenagers wading around in pools of their hormones. Or the people whose hearts haven’t quite grown out of that stage yet.

Head Like a Hole

While thrash metal is rarely one of those things I relish, Head Like A Hole makes me want to seriously headbang until the muscles in my neck are thick as Beyonce’s thighs. Check out the epileptic lighting direction in the live performance. People have multiple interpretations for the lyrics (a dom-sub relationship; strong disdain for money and its power over people), but whatever you draw from them, it makes for really good work music when you need to pound something out. Plus, I love that borderline desperate, somewhat coquettish opening verse – sends a tingle down my spine.

Into The Void

This one I picked because it has one of the most distinct, funkiest basslines I’ve heard in any song. It’s so good because it doesn’t come on immediately. The core melody is carefully layered from start to end, and by the time I get to the thumping midsection I usually feel overwhelmed with… well, feelings. Or as kids these days put it, I get so much feels from it. First there’s a soft mystery to the cello kicking the track off, laid over the tempo of La Mer’s sweet piano chord work. That’s all classical, but trust Reznor to throw in a spot of light industrial hammering on top to mix things up a bit. And this is only the first ten seconds.

The video itself is quite the odd feast of Trent’s anatomy – microscopic views of us creeping along his scalp, peering at the sandy textures of his irises and red branches of fine capillaries in his eye, investigating the biological patchwork of his skin and sinew of his lashes to his lids. Well, to be this up close and personal with him like this is weird and magical, but hey I’ll take it.

The Frail/The Wretched

Two separate songs on an album, but impossible to regard one without considering the other. The Frail is a delicate piano entry that can be as ambient as it can be a powerful portrait of its namesake when you decide to pay attention to its composition. I always listen to this when I need to put myself in a more somber, introspective mood just before I get down to writing. This is just one of my favourite tracks of all time because you can feel it evolve into the next stage of darkness. It’s a bit like watching someone’s innocence slowly slip away.

As it goes into its companion track you barely even realise that you’re into the next song. It’s the perfect segue into The Wretched, a dark, atmospheric thunderstorm that could pretty much signal the arrival of one pissed off demigod. These two songs are why I love looking upon The Fragile album as one continuous work of art – each song is so carefully intertwined and ordered purposefully that there can be no re-sequencing of tracks that won’t completely wreck the overall experience.

The Good Soldier

I have to confess that this didn’t even register the first time I heard it, but when I started to actually listen to its lyrical content, I felt it power of its story. I’m never really an advocate of music with political messages behind them, but Trent’s melodious storytelling of The Good Soldier’s struggle to keep the faith and align his personal ideals with his country’s own cause is as real as it gets. I wasn’t a huge fan of Year Zero, even though I acknowledge that conceptually, it was brilliantly constructed, but this is the one track that stood out for me. It’s like if music could be documentary, The Good Soldier would be one. And it would completely bring the roof down on Sundance.

Piggy

Again, I wanted to plug this with March of the Pigs but I felt like it wasn’t as integral to link them together as it would be for The Frail and The Wretched. It wasn’t sequenced in the same way, and Piggy stands on its own just fine. It’s my go to “are you happy now?” song that channels the big comedown after a major disagreement or a violation of your person/self-esteem, after your relationship with someone may have just been blown to smithereens and you’re just sitting in the dusty fallout wanting to just move on. Also featuring a memorable bass riff and a stripped down presentation, the track still manages to be simultaneously hard-hitting and emotionally confrontational. It swallows you whole; what a loaded gun this one is.

The Fragile

This is my favourite NIN song out of everything in the discography. It’s balances the mellow verses with the marching blows of its chorus. It speaks of how much you want to protect someone else you love and stop them from going down the same blundering path that you did. During the Fragile’s conception, Trent had been in a particularly dark place, and there’s something so raw and earnest about the hint of desperation in his voice that comes through when he sings. It’s a love song, and a pretty damn good one at that.

1 Ghosts I

Another no-vocal choice – I’m a really huge fan of Reznor’s piano compositions, I can’t help it. They have so much depth even if they sound simple enough (which I am perfectly clear that they aren’t simple to produce). When Ghosts was out, everyone was expecting angry growling and another throwback to NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine days, but realistically speaking, that would’ve felt too much like a step backward. Nobody stays the same forever, and people evolve. Ghosts I – IV was something out of left field, but it was rich and all-encompassing, like musical essays written to explore the human condition and its responses to controlled levels of change. Like an experiment.

This track makes me appreciate things more. The dreamy, strolling melody of the piano makes me feel like I’m on a journey, and that it’s okay to be uncertain about it.

Somewhat Damaged

Some argue that this is one of the hardest-sounding songs that NIN has ever come up with, and I’m inclined to agree. Starting off with a low octave guitar chromatic that would loop the rest of the song, the banging percussion and accompanying electric guitars/bass ride in like horsemen to the apocalypse. As the first track of The Fragile album, it sets the stage for the following hour or so of sheer production/musical genius – it rains the brimstone and fire down on you suddenly and relentlessly. When a song needs to be sung in a different key live because of “the intense vocal stress it would bring normally”, you know that you’ve got a masterpiece.

If I were to name a song that was to define all of industrial rock, this would be it.

There’s also an interesting little piece of trivia I found on the NIN Wiki.

From The Fragile diary, where Somewhat Damaged is moved to the front of the record to set the first impression.

Where Is Everybody?

Never having made it to a stage, Where Is Everybody’s distorted-but-layered bass is synthesizer heaven. I love this song for the times it helped me get through rough patches of loneliness and self-imposed isolation. While not exactly everyone else’s favourite (like Hurt, for example), my reasons for liking this are more personal. Lyrically very straightforward, but still apt for all the times that I felt like you did everything and no one hasn’t managed to understand you yet.

Special Mention:

Suck

Not actually a Trent Reznor original, Suck still stands on its own as a groovy rendition. I’ll even admit that the percussive style during verses are kind of hip hop, but before I get egged for tainting Reznor’s industrial god status by associating it with today’s shameful genres, I’d first like to clarify that his music is magnificent because he can push the envelope and introduce unexpected elements of other genres into the fray.

In fact, I feel like his legendary collaboration with David Bowie for I’m Afraid of Americans is inspired by the plucky bass riff of Suck, or at least they share some strings of genetic code. It has the same type of funk you’d find in Into The Void. Kind of seductive for something that has so much thrash-y flavour to it.

I can’t find a real Rob Sheridan-directed version of Suck, but here’s a pretty stable fan-recorded one for you to enjoy.

Talky talk

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