Saturday, September 25, 2021

My History with Nine Inch Nails

Oooh NIN Challenge on Tumblr. Not usually the kind of thing I'd respond to (I'm not very social, even though it's called social media), but Nine Inch Nails are a band who've gotten different reactions from me, depending on when you asked. So writing something seemed like fun, or enlightening, or something.

Me and Nine Inch Nails

Since you asked, I think the first time I ever came across NIN was in a short article in Rip a little bit after Pretty Hate Machine came out. I don't remember exactly what they were, but I do remember that Reznor told the interviewer some stupid and arrogant things. A month or so later, without my having mentioned that article to him, my boss, just on the offchance, picked up the TVT cassette.

We were both metalheads more than anything else, but there was something aggressive to the still mostly electronic tape that we both liked to a degree. I then mentioned the article I'd seen to my boss, and he agreed that Reznor sounded kind of douchy in it, but stupid things said to the music press were not a reason not to listen to the music--at least not in 1989, they weren't--so we continued to listen to PHM. Not as much as we listened to Beneath the Remains or anything, but we threw it into the work van's tape deck every now and then. Like everybody else, we liked "Head Like a Hole" the most.

Never did see the video for "Happiness in Slavery," but MTV played the fuck out of "Wish," in late 1992, and I was a believer. Also, the college station down here played a remix of "Suck" that I loved, as well. I went out and bought Broken on CD pretty quickly, and it was very clearly a different animal from the debut. It was pretty much everything I liked about music at the time, and specifically, even for someone who didn't think about production that much, you could tell the production was just freakin' ace. To this day, I think of Reznor as a producer first, then a musician, then a songwriter.

Metallica had started to stink by this time, and I specifically was *not* following all of the excellent death metal that was coming out at the time, and you know, Nirvana, so it's probably not incorrect to say that Broken was the heaviest thing I listened in 1992. I still think, short running time be damned, it's the best work from NIN.

Because of that, I bought the Downward Spiral CD very shortly after it came out in '94. But I was pretty disappointed. It was not as heavy as Broken, and really, made no effort to be. And I'm no prude, but "Closer" or "Closer to God," whatever you wanna call it, just seemed juvenile to me. "Fuck you like an animal," how boringly edgy. And the production that impressed me so much on Broken just seemed like bells and whistles to me now.

I disliked The Downward Spiral so much I sold it back to the record store that had sold it to me in the first place.

Also, around this time, I became aware of the band's cover of Soft Cell's amazing "Memorabilia." So my feelings for TDS and specifically "Closer" aside, just because I loved the Soft Cell tune so freaking much, I went out an bought the "Closer" CD maxi-single, just for the cover. And guess what, I thought *it* was a juvenile piece of shit, too, a boring guitarless arrangement devoid of melody over which Reznor scotch-taped some audio of him fucking, or fucking off, not sure which. I know I shouldn't expect too much of a B-side, but his version of "Memorabilia" seemed like a high school art project to me, which bugged me plenty, because, let me say it again, the Soft Cell original is amazing.

I'm pretty good about trying new music, but the thing about me is if I go out and buy something that sucks from any particular artist when it's brand new, unless I'm a major fan, that's probably gonna be the last thing I buy from them. It may not be fair of me, because, hell, everyone lays an egg every now and then, but that's how I am. I was a huge Iron Maiden fan until Somewhere in Time, but I haven't bought a Maiden album since. I did get St. Anger--and remember struggling greatly with the decision--but I didn't buy a thing from Metallica in the '90's because of the Black Album. More recently, Arctic Monkeys lost me as a paying customer with AM.

So, after The Downward Spiral, I really didn't pay any attention to Nine Inch Nails. No hard feelings, you know, but I had other things to occupy my musical attentions.

And that's where things stood until 2008, when I read (on Boing Boing, weirdly enough) about how Reznor was not only releasing an album of dark ambient experiments, he was also making Ghosts (or at least it's first nine tracks) available for free on his website. I don't hold grudges, I was intrigued, and the price was right.

It took me a year or so to purchase the complete album, but I absolutely *loved* the nine free tracks, and then I loved the 27 ones I had to pay for. Shit, I loved the two bonus tracks, as well, though I'm not quite sure how I got them, because I sure as hell didn't buy a deluxe edition, maybe it was via fileshare?

Anyway, Ghosts demonstrated in no uncertain terms to me that I'd probably underestimated Reznor. It is as all-over-the-place as you can get, featuring sharp distinctive takes on krautrock, Morricone, later-period Big Black, weirdo MBV, Italian horror-prog, and of course, Fripp and Eno, separately and together. Everything including the kitchen sink, and all of it with marvelous production, bells and whistles and anything else required to make the point. It's an album I didn't just love, it's an album that increased my estimation of its artist. As far as I'm concerned, it's a masterpiece of the current century.

A few years after I received the Ghosts CD, I was riding along the crests of the internet one early morn, and I came across, just by accident, just by clicking through on something that didn't have anything to do with my Google search, a page from the by-then decidedly uncurrent Year Zero subdomain. Without context, the fictional semi-post-apocalyptic page, and those I then skipped across from there, were even more frightening that they must have seemed to the gameplayers. I never did figure out how to play the game, but once I got the conceit behind the album, it took me not very long to order Year Zero off a used CD place on eBay. I've not heard anything else from NIN, either before or since, but Year Zero seemed--and seems still--like the best sequel I could imagine to the Broken EP that first galvanized my interest in Nine Inch Nails. It's heavy in a way that would appeal to the metalhead I used to be (or maybe still am); it affects the deeply cynical pessimistic worldview that Broken had while never dropping into juvenilia, and like most of what I've heard from Reznor, it *sounds* great.

I find it interesting that I've never seen Nine Inch Nails live. Back in 2013, I heard that they were touring with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky as support, and *that* was a show I would have made sure to attend, but there were no SoFla dates announced, and by the time the tour did get here, a year later, both support bands had been jettisoned. Turns out Dillinger Escape Plan played with them at West Palm Beach and Tampa, but I'd never heard of them at the time, so I made no such plans.

Ah well.