Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine (2010 remaster) review

Trent Reznor worked as a handyman and janitor at Right Track Studio, where he would use studio “down time” to write and record his own music. Playing all of the instruments himself and doing the sequencing on a Macintosh Plus (1 MB of RAM, expandable to 4 MB!), Reznor sent the demo to a number of labels until landing a deal with TVT Records.  In October, 1989, when Trent Reznor’s debut album under the moniker Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, was released I was four years old, and like any four year old at the time, the album was unheard by my ears.
When I finally got my hands on my own copy of Pretty Hate Machine (on cassette tape) from a second hand record store I was in the fifth grade.  To this day, I can still remember the apprehension I had felt before inserting the tape into my Sony Walkman.  Nine Inch Nails was an enigma to me.  Some of the older kids in my neighborhood listened to Nine Inch Nails, but they wore black, smoked cigarettes and were referred disdainfully by my father as “creepy goth kids”.  I was aware of the rumors that the name Nine Inch Nails was in reference to the spikes that were used to crucify Jesus, and being Catholic I naturally assumed that anything sharp that was used to impale the son of God was bad.  I knew that NINs music videos were highly controversial and heavily edited for rotation on MTV.  I knew that the songs were about sex and depression and death.  To be completely honest, I was scared of Nine Inch Nails.

There was something about Nine Inch Nails that, as a kid, I craved.  The music dealt with adult themes, but it seemed as though adults didn’t understand it.  This was both exciting and terrifying to me, since all of the adults I knew thought that Trent Reznor was some sort of menace, the embodiment of everything that was wrong with society.  It all began, really, with NIN’s first single off of Pretty Hate Machine that started it all.  “Head Like A Hole” had the lyrics, “bow down before the one you serve”; immediately accusations of Satanism and Reznor’s hell-bent intent on corrupting the minds of the youth were running rampant.  Thus began the persecution of the music of Nine Inch Nails by conservative Americans.

Being ten, I didn’t have much disposable income and so my Nine Inch Nails collection began and ended with that tape of Pretty Hate Machine.  The themes of desolation and suicide were heavy and dark, and in 1995 I preferred Britpop acts like Blur and Oasis, who had singles even my parents enjoyed.  It wouldn’t be until 2005 that I finally got my hands on a reissued copy of Pretty Hate Machine (a lengthy legal battle between Reznor and his old label saw Pretty Hate Machine out of circulation between 1997 and 2005).  Little memory remained of the album, my cassette tape being lost years prior.  So when I got around it ripping the CD into my iTunes, it came as a surprise to me to discover that despite the gritty title, Pretty Hate Machine was a dance record.  It was a synth-driven piece of electronica, complete with simple beats composed on drum machines.  The vilification of NIN and Trent Reznor was completely unfounded.  Listening to “Head Like A Hole” for the first time in ten years reminded me how the song wasn’t about Satanism, but about worshipping money, and all of the sexual themes explored on the album were fairly tame when compared to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”.

Most of the songs on Pretty Hate Machine have stood up well since the albums original release over twenty years ago, and on the 2010 reissue, we are treated to an extra track, a cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love”.  There are some missteps however, particularly the pseudo-rapping on “Down In It”, which seriously dates the album.  All in all, Pretty Hate Machine is a synth-pop record. Tracks like “Terrible Lie” and “Sin” easily could have been recorded by Depeche Mode during their Black Celebration/Music for the Masses/Violator period, if there were more explicit and overt references to sex and death.  So if that sounds like something you’d be into, definitely pick this album up.  If you’re looking for an introduction to Nine Inch Nails, I would suggest skipping this one and go for NINs masterpiece second album, The Downward Spiral.  Any way you slice it, one thing is certain, I guess the goth kids liked to dance after all.


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