Search This Blog

Loading...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- The Slip

 photo 220px-The_slip_Nine_Inch_Nails_album_zpsjpzkp80f.jpg
7/10

Trent Reznor generously released The Slip for free on his website in June of 2008. The album feels like a return-to-form, a natural evolution of the rock band sound of 2005's With Teeth, instead of  the bloated garble of 2007's Year Zero. He even finds time for a piano ballad and an ambient track in the album's sparing run-time. Reznor also returns to his lyrical specialty, focusing on the fracturing stress in interpersonal relationships, as well as questions of consciousness. Unfortunately, though, that's all I have to say about The Slip.
Maybe it's because a more well-adjusted Reznor means less interesting music (FALSE, as the next review will show), or maybe The Slip's free-ness makes it feel more disposable.
Whatever the case, The Slip is a fun forty-four minutes that doesn't sound vital in the least.

2008 The Null Corporation
1. 999,999 1:25
2. 1,000,000 3:56
3. Letting You 3:49
4. Discipline 4:19
5. Echoplex 4:45
6. Head Down 4:55
7. Lights in the Sky 3:29
8. Corona Radiata 7:33
9. The Four of Us Are Dying 4:37
10. Demon Seed 4:59

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- Year Zero

 photo 220px-Yearzero_cover323_zpsgkoviqfx.jpg
5/10

I don't slag albums very often, especially not ones by artists I admire, but I am about to slag Nine Inch Nail's Year Zero.
You know how right now I can go to Target and use whatever restroom I choose, regardless of what's hanging or not hanging between my legs? The now nine-year old Year Zero posits that at this point in history (2016), the exact opposite will be true. Year Zero is a thematic departure for Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor, in that his lyrics are often explorations of his own emotions and mental state, and Year Zero's are not..
For Year Zero, Reznor attempted something different: a concept album about a hypothetical future where the Bush Administration transforms American into a morally repressive theocracy. This concept would have been amusing and dare I even say "palatable" in 2003--even in 2005, perhaps. By 2007, though, this concept is laughable and ridiculous. Reznor is so late to the Bush-bashing party, there's no cake left, and everyone who's still there is severely drunk, passed out, or tripping in the attic. By 2007, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, the subprime mortgage crisis, and The Great Recession, even W.'s mom was tired of the Bush's. The country was in about as much danger of becoming a Bush-led theocracy as it was of suddenly spontaneously combusting into pink fire composed entirely of cotton candy. On top of that, social issues progressed in America during the Bush Administration, just like the have every year since this nation was founded, regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office.
Year Zero simply doesn't resonate. It sounded ridiculous in 2007, and it sounds even more ridiculous in 2016, when view of Bush's character has improved and his charitable work in Africa has become legendary, even if popular views on his war and economy records remain just as unpopular as they were...in 2007.
I had more slagging to do, but I just don't have it in me. This album, like anything Reznor creates, has some interesting textures, atmosphere, and rhythms, but this is the worst thing the man has ever released for public consumption. It breaks no new ground musically, and nothing sticks. (DON'T!) Listen to the album's awful lead-single "Capital G," which sounded dated in 2007, and sounds even more musically out-of-touch now. Reznor claims that the "G" stands for "Greed" and not "George," but that's some serious back-pedaling when the song's opening line is "I pushed a button and elected him to office and he pushed a button and he dropped a bomb."
With that said, I am going to end this review right here, so that I can go listen to something I actually enjoy...like essentially every other piece of music Reznor has released in his justifiably storied career. Adverbs.

2007 Interscope
1. HYPERPOWER! 1:42
2. The Beginning of the End 2:47
3. Survivalism 4:23
4. The Good Soldier 3:23
5. Vessel 4:52
6. Me, I'm Not 4:51
7. Capital G 3:50
8. My Violent Heart 4:13
9. The Warning 3:38
10. God Given 3:50
11. Meet Your Master 4:08
12. The Greater Good 4:52
13. The Great Destroyer 3:17
14. Another Version of the Truth 4:09
15. In This Twilight 3:33
16. Zero-Sum 6:14

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- With Teeth

 photo 220px-Nine_Inch_Nails_With_Teeth_Standard_zpsxectddyv.jpg
8/10

Sometimes musical change is a bit tough to take. Trent Reznor went six years (1999-2005) without releasing a new Nine Inch Nails studio album. In that time period, after years of alcohol and drug addiction, Reznor became sober. He changed as a person, and his music changed, too. Nine Inch Nails 90's output almost sounds like a noise collage melted into songs--buzzing guitars and synths bashed into acoustic and found sounds, interspersed with ambient textures. Yet with all of those sounds, NIN sounded like a one man show. With Teeth sounds like it was recorded by a four-piece band...and it's only dark...not bleakest black!
Listening to these 13 songs, one can easily imagine Reznor on vocals and keyboards, next to a bassist, guitarist, and drummer--indeed Dave Grohl(!) pops up to provide live drums on nearly half With Teeth's tracks. "Live" might actually be the key word here, as these songs sound like they could be live performances. The more acoustic sounds and ambient textures have been dialed back to nearly nothing. "Bah," went my initial impression. "This doesn't sound special any more--it just sounds like humans playing music."
Time brings change, but it also flattens out previous changes until they no longer seem so insurmountable...or even that significant.
I can listen to With Teeth now, and appreciate these 13 songs for what they are, and not what I want them to be--turns out, they are actually quite good. With Teeth's music bounces between something close to funky (check out some of those drum and bass grooves!) and pummeling (check out Dave Grohl destroying some innocent drum kit on "You Know What You Are?"!) Almost every one of With Teeth's tracks is memorable and sounds like it could be a single (this is not meant to be derogatory, there's just a strong dedication to song-craft apparent in each song), and they all fit together nicely.
Reznor does a fine job of exploring his rehab and post-rehab emotions, as he feels mechanical, cold, and wonders if he even has an identity outside of his former life. There's a through-line here that Reznor is starting to doubt the existence of reality itself. He even posits that the entire world might exist in his or your head. In that vein, there's a great circulation of ideas between the opener "All the Love in the World," and the closer, "Right Where It Belongs." Reznor actually mentions the title of the latter in the former, as well as "hiding in a crowd," only to add the distorted noises of a crowd cheering in "Right Where It Belongs," over the lyrics:

What if everything around you
Isn't quite as it seems
What if all the world you used to know
Is an elaborate dream?

This gives the album a (not to be redundant or over-obvious) dream-like quality.
 Also, and this is going to be difficult to explain, With Teeth strongly evokes 2005, the year it was created. I can't explain why, and perhaps the feeling is intangible (technically, all feelings are intangible), but Reznor's lyrics, and the way this music sounds reminds me of 11 years ago. Not that the music sounds dated--it doesn't--but it evokes that time...something in the air of the recording, which I think you can hear in other popular "rock" albums from that year, like Weezer's Make Believe, or the Gorillaz' Demon Days. Or maybe that's just my memory mucking things up...what's the difference between memory and reality, anyway?


2005 Nothing/Interscope
1. All the Love in the World 5:15
2. You Know What You Are? 3:42
3. The Collector 3:08
4. The Hand That Feeds 3:32
5. Love Is Not Enough 3:41
6. Every Day Is Exactly the Same 4:55
7. With Teeth 5:38
8. Only 4:23
9. Getting Smaller 3:35
10. Sunspots 4:03
11. The Line Begins to Blur 3:44
12. Beside You in Time 5:25
13. "Right Where It Belongs" 5:04

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- Still

 photo 220px-Aatchb_still_zpsu9mftcfm.jpg
8/10

Still is a personal favorite of mine. It was originally packaged with a live album from The Fragile Tour, but Nine Inch Nails, aka Trent Reznor, made the rather wise decision to sell it separately, as well. I can count the number of live albums I've purchased on one hand. Live isn't one of them, and Still went completely under my radar. Ironically, the below video came up as "recommended" on Youtube one day when I was listening to something else.

I was shocked to hear that this was Nine Inch Nails. I knew Trent played the piano, but had no idea he'd put out anything like this.
Still is a nine-song collection of re-worked previously released tracks, as well as newly released instrumentals. The piano or keyboard is the heart of each of these songs, outside of the guitar-based "And All That Could Have Been."
With that summation out of the way, Still's re-recorded songs may not feature the loud power of the originals, but they make up for that by sounding more vulnerable. That's not to say these re-recordings are all quiet...they can be quite intense at times. However, their more minimal arrangements--far more acoustic and organic than the originals--reveal something new in Reznor's voice. Obviously, he has conveyed pain and anger quite well in the past, but here there's regret and dare I say a wistfulness to his singing that wasn't apparent before. Maybe that's because his vocals are presented in such a raw, unpolished, and naked fashion.
For me, though, the standouts here are the instrumentals. The first two, "Adrift and at Peace," and "Gone Still" contain a floaty, airy feeling that's magnificently contemplative. My favorites, however, are the latter duo, album closers "The Persistence of Loss" and "Leaving Hope."
"The Persistence of Loss" begins with a low-octave piano line, and gradually adds in more instrumentation until the listener can feel the entire weight of the Earth's sorrow on their shoulders. That's hyperbole for some, but it's how I feel when I hear it--since I am an over-dramatic person, prone to depression, it's certainly not hyperbole for me. There's this low whistle Reznor introduces in the song's final minute that sounds like God calling to his creation through 600 miles of crushing ocean. By the way, I am currently listening to Still and writing this while in the midst of a crushing migraine (Editors Note. It lasted well through the night and into the next day).
"Leaving Hope," is full of subtle, crackling power, and gives me this resigned feeling, like I am walking into the face of death, and I know I could have maybe done things better, but I did indeed do them, and now it seems like everything is over, and that might be okay.
Sorry for all the abstract bullshit.

2002 Nothing
1. Something I Can Never Have 6:39
2. Adrift and at Peace 2:52
3. The Fragile 5:12
4. The Becoming 4:30
5. Gone, Still 2:36
6. The Day the World Went Away 5:17
7. And All That Could Have Been 6:14
8. The Persistence of Loss 4:03
9. Leaving Hope

Friday, April 29, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- The Fragile

 photo 220px-Nin-the_fragile800_zpsmdjhici0.jpg
8/10
Left Disc: 9/10
Right Disc: 7/10


First, I want to say one last thing about The Downward Spiral. How about that album cover? It's beautiful on its own, a work of art, yet it also abstractly sums up the album it was created to represent...which is also a work of art.
A work of art, if you didn't get the rather blunt point I hammered again and again, that I couldn't make much sense out of when I was 12. However, as I went through middle-school, and the first three years of high school, I realized that a lot of people I admired were big fans of Nine Inch Nails. I wanted to be a fan, too, but the music just sounded like repetitive, incomprehensible noise to me. At 18 (newly minted), I was offered another chance.
On one of the last fleeting weekends of 1999 (and the 20th century, itself), a 91.1 FM KLSU DJ announced that he was going to air Nine Inch Nails' newest album, The Fragile, in its entirety. As he made this announcement, I happily realized that I was getting off of my dreary Wal-Mart job that night at the exact time that the DJ planned to spin the album.
Back in those days, unless you had the best current Internet and were extremely savvy, the only way to hear a new album was to buy a physical copy from a physical store. Now was my chance to finally get with it...for free!
The road to this was perilous. Working in a small town (non-super) Wal-Mart meant that when my work was done, I would have to "zone" my area of the store. "Zone" means to clean up and straighten all of the merchandise on all of the shelves in your section, until you're done, regardless of time. I almost failed high-school Physics because of "zoning."
Thankfully, "zoning" was light that night. I got out of the store just a few minutes after the album was supposed to begin. I lightly jogged to my car and turned on my radio...but drat!...some kind of weird cloud cover overhead was screwing with the reception. The songs were frequently pierced by white noise...as if I didn't already have enough trouble understanding what was going on in Trent Reznor's sonic world.
As I drove home along a night-fogged False River, the street and pier lights threw strangely-colored, jagged shadows among the haze. Suddenly, Reznor's voice came through my car speakers clearly. I immediately pulled over, to maintain this excellent reception. I just so happened to end up in the gravel parking lot of the fireworks stand my brother and I usually frequented, halfway set-up for the impending Christmas and Y2K festivities.
Once I put my car in park, I leaned back in my seat and shut my eyes.

The song playing was "The Great Below," and it was the perfect song to listen to at that exact moment in my life. I'd just had the largest year I'd ever had and have yet to have, and now it was coming to an end. On top of that, after having so much fun, and experiencing so many new, interesting and exciting things, I had become extremely fatalistic. I was preparing myself for a major surgery just a few days before Christmas, not sure if I was going to make it through (and blowing it hugely out of proportion in my mind). If I survived the surgery, who knew what the dreaded Y2K would bring.
And yet, I was at peace. One of the major reasons I got so much enjoyment out of that year is because I made peace with my own (in my mind impending) death early on. I had no fear and only wanted to break new ground, make awesome memories before I (presumably) bowed out. As the notes of Nine Inch Nails "The Great Below" warbled, danced, and floated up from my speakers, I had a strikingly lucid waking dream, visualizing everything that had come to pass over the past 350 or so days. The closest thing I can compare it to is that hypnotic scene in the middle of Peter Jackson's The Two Towers, where Cate Blanchett gives a voice-over on top of a quiet montage of distant happenings, except instead of Galadriel's voice narrating the action, it was Trent Reznor's. Trippy, man.
"The Great Below," is the final track on The Fragile's first disc. It has a second one. I pulled out of the empty fireworks stand parking lot after "The Great Below," as the DJ took a quick break between the discs. I only heard crackly versions of the next three or so songs, and the radio in my room couldn't pick up KLSU at all that night. Still, I enjoyed "The Great Below" enough to invest my hard-earned cash in The Fragile, so that I could hear the whole thing.
 - - -
As I listened to the first disc, or "Left Disc," I discovered that the songs were much better when they weren't buried under piles of static. The Fragile, to me at least, doesn't feel like one story ala The Downward Spiral. It's more a collection of like feelings. I mean "like" as in similar, not "like" as in the conversational space-filler.
The Fragile seems to offer songs about a struggling relationship, and dysfunctional relationships in general, as well as addiction and loss, though all in very abstract terms. A lot of times, though, the most volatile relationship seems to be the one Reznor has with himself. With that said, he still sounds angry and at the end of his rope at times, but he also sounds calm and contemplative at others--maybe a bit older, too (after all, he is). Reznor could get heady on The Downward Spiral, but it's a far more commonly charted course on The Fragile.
Due to this and Reznor's restless musical curiosity, The Fragile's sonic variation is quite remarkable, from the driving, violent opening track, "Somewhat Damaged," to the cinematic, quiet-to-loud dynamics of "The Day the World Went Away." Those are just the first two.
My favorite Fragile tracks come in the form of a mid-album duo. The first is "We're in This Together," which features a huge chorus, maybe the best hook Reznor ever wrote, awesome driving bass, and a verse-beat that forces your head to nod against its will. The second is the title track, which finds Reznor again exploring quiet-to-loud dynamics, hiding odd sounds even in the gentler moments. The song also features a decent amount of piano, and that particular instrument is sprinkled generously throughout The Fragile--it is, after all, the first that Reznor learned to play.
Later on, "Even Deeper" features even more classical instrumentation, with a hypnotic violin line weaving in between Reznor's musings, a buzzy guitar, and a skippy beat...yes, "skippy." The whole disc is tied together by the closing track, the previously mentioned "The Great Below," which finds Reznor softly imagining sinking beneath the waves to join his recently deceased grandmother.
The Left Disc is great work, and pulls off my favorite trick: being simultaneously an artifact of its time (1999) and timeless. There's a second disc, though, Right Disc.I missed that one on my late night drive, but it turns out I had already heard the best bits of The Fragile.
Right Disc isn't bad by any means, but compared to Left Disc, it seems more of a compendium of neat ideas Reznor couldn't work into The Fragile's first 54 minutes of music. There are certainly standout moments within songs, like the opening ambiance of "The Way Out Is Through," the cool start-stop beat of "Into the Void," or the haunting atmosphere and startling change in dynamics of "The Mark Has Been Made." It's hard to hear this second disc as anything more than a collection of cool sounds, though. The twelve tracks of Left Disc would still feel like a complete album without the Right one.
And finally, speaking of sounds...
I talked about having a hard time making musical sense of Reznor's work when I was a pre-teen. I feel like that's a problem critics have always had with Nine Inch Nails. You often see NIN lumped into "Industrial Music," but the truth of the matter is, "Unconventional Rock," is a much better description. "Unconventional" because Reznor likes making loops out of weird noises and playing his keyboards more than he does utilizing an electric guitar. Once you get past that element, his music is surprisingly accessible.
- - -
Hey, I think this review is done. I can't wait to drive home from work (four hours after this lunch break) and listen to The Fragile.


1999 Nothing/Interscope

Left Disc
1. Somewhat Damaged 4:31
2. The Day the World Went Away 4:33
3. The Frail 1:54
4. The Wretched 5:25
5. We're in This Together 7:16
6. The Fragile 4:35
7. Just Like You Imagined 3:49
8. Even Deeper 5:48
9. Pilgrimage 3:31
10. No, You Don't 3:35
11. La Mer 4:37
12. The Great Below 5:17

Right Disc
1. The Way Out Is Through 4:17
2. Into the Void 4:49
3. Where Is Everybody? 5:40
4. The Mark Has Been Made 5:15
5. Please 3:30
6. Starfuckers, Inc. 5:00
7. Complication 2:30
8. I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally 4:13
9. The Big Come Down 4:12
10. Underneath It All 2:46
11. Ripe (With Decay) 6:34

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- The Downward Spiral

 photo 220px-The_Downward_Spiral_zps4ffwgwjv.png
10/10

I remember it very clearly: the members of my youth group not currently on stage are all bunched around me on the back row of our Titian Avenue church. Those who are on stage are putting on a purposefully silly drama about the ill-effects of popular music on teenagers. One guy has tied his hair into Coolio braids. I'm not exactly sure what Coolio did to receive my youth group's ire, but everyone is getting a good laugh out of this kid's wacky hair. However, when the drama ends, things get a bit more dire. The kid with the Coolio braids' mom comes up on stage with a box of CD's.
If you grew up in a church when CD's were the main form of musical delivery, you know what is coming: it's time for an old-fashioned CD breaking.
As an ardent fan of "secular" music, I can only think of one occasion where I intentionally broke a plastic disc containing it, and I just ended up purchasing that album again a few months later. I am my usual defiant self at this church meeting, and none of the CD's in the box are mine. Truthfully, I don't even have a CD player by this point in history.
The Angry Church Mom pulls out a few choice albums from the box and pontificates on each. Suddenly, she is waiving Nine Inch Nail's The Downward Spiral in the air.
The Downward Spiral is Nine Inch Nail's breakout album. Unless you were stuck on Milli Vanilli in the early 90's, or not born yet, you've probably heard of it. I had because I saw the video for "Closer" on MTV and laughed hysterically when I realized what the censor's were bleeping out of the chorus. To put that story in the past tense, I giggled thinking about it when Angry Church Mom held The Downward Spiral in the air, secretly hoping she would quote the lyrics for shock value. She didn't (truthfully, she is a pretty nice lady), but she did comment on the name of the band, asking the audience what other nails we could think of that were nine inches long. This comment was rather shocking, as I always assumed Trent Reznor was a fan of alliteration, and had not named his band after the implements used to hang our Lord and Savior from the cross.
It turns out my assumption was closer to the truth...Reznor just chose the name because he liked the way it abbreviated.
But still...The Downward Spiral is not an appropriate listen for a 12-year old kid. I'm coming up on the age that Angry Church Mom was when she went on her tirade. I haven't attended the church where the Angry Church Mom tirade was given in quite some time.
I still attend church, though. Like Stephen Colbert, I even teach Sunday-school. It's hard to think of someone from my generation getting up in front of a crowd of parents and teenagers, and telling them what they should or should not listen to. If such a person does currently exist, it is unlikely that that person would even comprehend Nine Inch Nail's The Downward Spiral.  A 12 year-old will most likely be unable to understand it, as well.
A teenaged Dylan Klebold most likely wasn't able to understand The Downward Spiral, either. I've spilled enough bytes on this blog talking about Columbine. I even wrote an editorial in my school paper after it happened (It was titled "Blaming Mario Is Not the Answer"). That editorial said the same thing I believe now: video games, movies, and music can't be blamed for what happened. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were already extremely messed up individuals. When Klebold's extremely depressive nature met Harris' total sociopathy, it was all over with. Klebold might quote lyrics from The Downward Spiral in his journals, but it's clear that he doesn't understand what he is talking about. He could have latched onto any available words, and given them whatever meaning he wanted. More than four million people purchased The Downward Spiral. Only one participated in a mass shooting (though sadly, as there have been so many mass-shootings since Columbine, the law of averages almost certainly proves that sentence false...and by that logic, I'm sure plenty of those mass-shooters also listened to Beyoncé). Did listening to Nine Inch Nails push Klebold further down his path? How do you push someone when they are already gone?
I could talk about The Downward Spiral itself now, but let's talk about me and let's talk about nihilism.
Nihilism is a system of belief which asserts that life is without meaning or purpose. I am simplifying for brevity's sake, but I don't think one could distill the philosophy much more efficiently.
Unfortunately, maybe more when I was younger, I've felt a tug toward nihilism. It always feels great to respond to people getting worked up about something by leaning back and saying, "Who cares. It doesn't mean anything anyway." In high school, a friend of mine had a shirt that pictured one kid asking another "What's cool?" "Nothing's cool, man," responds the other. I was really, really jealous of that shirt.
I think I probably get this bleakness from my father.He's done a huge 180 in the last 15 years, and transformed into one of the more optimistic and encouraging people I know, but when he was in his late 30's and early 40's, he was less a glass half-full guy, and more a "the glass will just end up empty, anyway" one. At that time, he was famous for sighing and muttering the phrase, "Life sucks, then you die."
I always found that perspective to be very seductive. I never minded tossing out a discouraging comment to someone who was riding high.
More darkly, several years before Columbine (I was born the same years as the killers), a friend of mine asserted that he had found dynamite in his grandfather's storage shed. When he suggested that he might set some off at a school dance to punish all the people he felt marginalized by, I encouraged him. I mean, I didn't think he would really go through with it, but still... Thankfully, he didn't.
So anyway, for whatever reason, it has always been easier for me to imagine the universe as a bleak and hopeless place without meaning. I guess you can say that for me, nihilism comes naturally. With all that said, The Downward Spiral is one of the strongest arguments against nihilism I have ever heard.
The album follows a protagonist who spits at and casts himself away from all institutions, humanity, and belief. In the end he ends up full of regret, puts a gun to his head, and ends it all. The Downward Spiral does not present this as a desirable outcome.
Thus, in the proper context, the chorus of the third track, "Heresy," takes on a different meaning. "God is dead and no one cares/if there is a hell, I'll see you there," feels great in an arrogant mouth,  much less so when it's sharing it with a shotgun. A mature person, even a staunch atheist, can make this distinction. However, I'm not so sure a 12 year-old can. I'm pretty sure Dylan Klebold couldn't.
I think it's pretty obvious now (and maybe even then) that a young Trent Reznor worked out a lot of his mental issues through music. He's been pretty clear that his protagonists are usually just stand-ins for himself. That 12-year old kid in 1994 probably couldn't have predicted that 19 years later, Reznor would be singing "I'm just trying to find my way/oh dear Lord, hear my prayer." If you survive, you generally grow out of the anger...
and speaking of the Lord, I think a lot of 90's Christian artists could hear the value in Reznor's music. Audio Adrenaline's "Some Kind of Zombie" is certainly informed by The Downward Spiral's "Mr. Self Destruct." Little distinguishes Mark Stuart's "I hear you speak and I obey," from Reznor's "I take you where you want to go." Have you heard Skillet's second, third, and fourth albums (ed. note--I love those albums).
I'm quite sure plenty of folks didn't pay any attention to the lyrics anyway. The music is so good, and so original, I think many people focused on that aspect. Flailing music journalists threw NIN into the "Industrial" category, but The Downward Spiral doesn't lean heavily on synths, and Reznor crafts plenty of its soundscapes out of organic noises...bees, moans, natural percussion. There are so many sounds here, it's almost unbelievable. There's a harshness, easily represented by The Downward Spiral character's chaos, in over-driven guitars, Reznor's violent snarls, but there's also a sense of calm that the central character seems to be seeking, represented by islands of quiet, pools of ambiance.
My personal favorite element is the "Downward Spiral" motif Reznor creates, backing the chorus of "Heresy" (how ironic), peeking in gently at the end of "Closer," and then fully expressing itself in the penultimate title track. This descending series of notes, whether by Reznor's conscious or subconscious intention, backs the protagonist's early mockery of faith and his later suicide. Again, this is musical depth a 12-year old might not pick up upon.
And now, finally, I reveal why I keep picking on poor, hapless 12-year olds. At the time of this album's release, and in the story I started this review with, I was 12. In 1994, I did not understand The Downward Spiral on a musical level. It took me five years to breakthrough to an understanding of what Reznor was actually doing, nevermind the lyrics. If the music just sounded like noise, why bother?
But what if I had understood the music? What kind of connection would I have then made with the lyrics? When I was old enough to get the music, the lyrical themes of the album made complete sense to me. I had a suspicion that following my darker thoughts to their logical conclusion would not be worth it...and nobody knows how close I came to doing that. Listening to this early 20's angst-ridden Reznor actually helped me to focus on more positive thoughts...to be optimistic. I could better understand the futility of focusing on my own bleaker impulses...but not everyone hears this album that way.
So what should we do then? Put parental-advisory stickers on works of art that might give impressionable minds the wrong one? How does that even work now that teenagers no longer buy things that grown-ups can put stickers on? Should we refuse to sell it to them at all? Try to make the artist feel bad?
There's a great quote from a Rolling Stone Reznor interview that some helpful soul linked on Wikipedia. It involves one of the many controversies around The Downward Spiral: the location of its recording. A young, and frankly foolish Reznor rented the house that the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate in, and built a studio in it to record this very album. He thought it would be a cool and interesting place to record, but in this  interview with Rolling Stone, he admits:

While I was working on [The] Downward Spiral, I was living in the house where Sharon Tate was killed. Then one day I met her sister [Patti Tate]. It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she said: 'Are you exploiting my sister's death by living in her house?' For the first time, the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face. I said, 'No, it's just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I'm in this place where a weird part of history occurred.' I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don't want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, 'What if it was my sister?' I thought, 'Fuck Charlie Manson.' I went home and cried that night. It made me see there's another side to things, you know?



1994 Nothing/Interscope
1. Mr. Self Destruct 4:30
2. Piggy 4:24
3. Heresy 3:54
4. March of the Pigs 2:58
5. Closer 6:13
6. Ruiner 4:58
7. The Becoming 5:31
8. I Do Not Want This 5:41
9. Big Man with a Gun 1:36
10. A Warm Place 3:22
11. Eraser 4:54
12. Reptile 6:51
13. The Downward Spiral 3:57
14. Hurt 6:13

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

And Now It's Time for...NIN?

 photo download_zps6jamjibf.png

Yeah, so I like Nine Inch Nails. I've never listened to him in any situation where I wasn't alone, and I don't have one of those classic T-Shirts, so maybe this will surprise some people.
I'm about to publish reviews for a bunch of his albums, but I am finding some interesting topics to explore, as well as some significant personal details that are working their way into these reviews, so I might just take my sweet time with them. Up first is a review of The Downward Spiral, my first experience with Trent Reznor's music, as it was released the year I turned 13. I can't go further back than that, as the idea of a nine year-old listening to late 80's-early 90's NIN is a little messed up.
Kind of like my hair.