The future of music was already apparent in 1989 with the release of this album by Trent Reznor’s oddly named Nine Inch Nails. It may be that The Downward Spiral was more artistically challenging and more popular, but this album is still a classic debut and still sounds great today. It is the beginning of a great musical journey by Nine Inch Nails so let’s have a listen to this, see what it sounds like.
The unusual instrumentation that kicks off Head Like A Hole is awesome before various samples and instrumentation come into your ears. Trent Reznor sings about conflicting ideals with God and money, before going into a great chorus about maintaining independence in a world of lies and deceit or dying instead. An interesting approach, and a catchy song all throughout. It’s super 1980s sounding but is way better than anything like Duran Duran in retrospect.
Next is Terrible Lie with some funky keyboards and a straightforward drum beat. The attention to every single piece of detail in this music is really quite awesome. Once again, religious themes are here throughout, in a negative sort of way. Despite that, this tune is really awesome. The repeated lyrics and sense of urgency in Trent Reznor’s voice is something unique and wonderful. The long outro is epic and awesome.
Down In It is a tune of morbid reflection. It’s an existential angst sort of thing done brilliantly set to music. Lyrically, it mentions losing one’s way. The fact that there is a great edge to the music in a Brian Wilson sort of perfectionism is great to hear. The recording definitely benefits from it, another great song to hear. The combination of whispering and screaming towards the end is awesome.
Sanctified comes next with Roland drum machine sounds and samples, before going into a dark, yet funky bass guitar riff and a good tune. It talks about deep and dark reflection on relationship problems. This is by no means easy listening folks, it’s dark and twisted, like walking through a graveyard at night. Some of the lines are classy here, the lyrics are personal, reflective and excellent. Great stuff. The dark gospel vocals in the midsection are definitely different. The outro is super freaky, going straight into the next song.
The next song Something I Can Never Have is one of the darkest songs that Nine Inch Nails ever recorded, and that is saying something. It’s about broken relationships and losses. The piano part is majestic, as is the rest of the song. It is so deep and personal lyrically that it is rather scary in that respect. It looks back at better days and better times, with Trent Reznor asking for a lover’s forgiveness. The end sounds like messed up desperation from our main man, but Trent Reznor does brilliantly regardless. Good job.
We hit considerably lighter territory with Kinda I Want To. It has a great schizophrenic back and forth motion between two sets of melodies and samples for the listener. It’s still heavy listening, but much more danceable and uplifting than some of the previous tracks. Some twisted sounding keyboards and percussion are in the middle of this tune, along with some super fuzzy guitar sounds. Brilliant. It builds up into a musical frenzy towards the end, with some epic screaming by Trent Reznor. Great stuff.
Sin begins with a great sonic template of ear candy, before launching very quickly into a keyboard-led jam with Trent Reznor singing about what makes us human, after all. One wonders how he would have remained sane recording these songs. Still, it is another excellent listen for fans of darker types of music. The lyrics and rhymes are intelligent and brilliant. Another great piece.
That’s What I Get sounds incredibly dated at the beginning, with old school keyboards. It then goes into an almost ballad-like piece with Trent Reznor singing about heartbreak. A good tune to hear, it is Trent Reznor’s way of putting himself up as a love martyr. A little weaker than the other tracks, but still consistent listening. Great usage of electronics and electronic sounds is on this song, however.
Next is The Only Time which sings about sexual desire, which Trent Reznor does brilliantly. You can really hear the dude sound as though he is lusting for some. Music-wise, there is another repeated funky bass guitar riff and well structured electronic sounds all through this. “Maybe I’m all messed up?! Maybe I’m all messed up in you!” screams Trent Reznor as he sings about sex as the singular release from his pain, an interesting concept to think about. Another great song here.
Lastly, Ringfinger seems rather throwaway but it is still a very enjoyable listen. It talks about the sacrifice in a relationship, with some unusual lyrics. It’s a low key sounding piece that finishes off this album nicely. There are more biblical references in this tune, perhaps self-consciously so. The electronic heavy outro is awesome.
If you liked The Downward Spiral and you want to hear more, this is an excellent place to start. Sure, Trent Reznor had bigger and bolder records than this one. But, it all started here. Give this a listen if you are not having a great time, it’s a great musical journey.
Funky and electronic.