Music History

Published on July 16th, 2017 | by Alan Cross


Nine Inch News: You Got What You Asked For

[Another meditation on the music of a big name artist by contributor Gilles LeBlanc. – AC]

With all the craziness going on in the world, it’s reassuring to know there are a least a few things you can count on when it comes to Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails.

You can call what his band does “industrial”, or some derivative of heavy metal; Reznor at various points in his career has been held up as an industry rebel and Gothic sex symbol. Not to mention one of the handsomely chiselled visages on the Mount Rushmore of ROCK. What is for sure is that the trail NIN have been blazing for nearly 30 years is as bright, dangerously hot and unconventionally alternative as ever.

After “waving goodbye” in 2009, presumably to concentrate on winning more soundtracking Oscars with Atticus Ross, Reznor’s electro-dystopian music project surprisingly returned with Hesitation Marks to much critical acclaim. To emphasize the fact NIN is back as a functioning entity, a new EP called Add Violence is being released July 21st to coincide with their first live show in three years. Well, unless you count that weirdly appropriate guest appearance on the revived Twin Peaks.

Before EDM came and ruined everything, Nine Inch Nails were the soundtrack to many a rave night thanks to landmark albums Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral and double-disc’ed The Fragile. Oh, and the Broken EP too with its snuff film-like videos that were banned from MTV but drove the cool ’90s kids into a frenzy for more, more, more of these strange new sounds. Reznor’s computer-processed beats and riffs brought his growing legion of fans into a virtual escape every time they were replicated live, transforming the mechanical into music.

NIN at its best is abrasive, the perfect reason for parents of Gen-Xers to scream, “Turn that racket down!” A quarter-century later, “Suck” still feels as if the world is about to cave in when the Null Corporation CEO screams, “How does it feel?” Let’s not even get into how many inhibitions were lost to “Closer” between couples, OK? They didn’t even need to delve deeper into Reznor’s lyrics, intuitively knowing full well there was an element of despair they couldn’t help their already angry youths cope with properly. And if you were to listen closely through the at times purposely garbled production values (like in “Hurt”), you’d no doubt be gobsmacked by how personal yet relatable they are. Just ask Johnny Cash.

Even as Reznor himself has gotten older, wiser and sober, there have been no shortage of prophesizing reminders the apocalypse is probably already upon us, that we are in a futile race against time (see “Survivalism” for one). It isn’t all doom and gloom, as the music manufacturer can tickle the piano ivories as tenderly and emotionally resonating as anyone, especially as he enters his proverbial “Dad Rock” years. Newest cut “Less Than” is classic NIN, almost lulling listeners with a false sense of Depeche Mode-ish synchs before cranking up the distortionary effects. You got what you asked for.

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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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