The Downward Spiral
Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor's nom de musique) have bestowed another album
full of pastoral folk ballads about courtly love, the wonders of Nature and
God. Had you going there, huh? Actually Reznor's fans (all million or so of
you) won't be surprised by his hook-wise industrial-dance turbulence or
lyrical obsessions. Our man is still a mite disturbed. It's hard to know if
his agitation is genuine or a pose, but regardless, aficionados of nihilism
will definitely feast on The Downward Spiral.
I've largely ignored industrial-dance, including NIN's Pretty Hate Machine
and Broken, with little regret. Except for Cabaret Volitaire, early Meat
Beat Manifesto and 1000 Homo DJ's cover of Sabbath's 'Supernaut', the genre
leaves me numb and headachy. Besides, I already know that televangelists
are hypocrites, war is evil and killing animals is wrong. But Reznor has
always displayed more pop sense than most of his industrial brethen (it is
overwhelmingly a male sound) but his anguished howls caused the opposite
of catharsis-I felt as if I'd implode if I absorbed that voice for longer
than one song. Let the rich white suburban kids revel in industrial music,
those sullen brats who wear their unearned angst as one more fashion
accessory. This thing wasn't leading to heaven, to paraphrase Harry Crews.
But you've gotta hand it to Reznor. He lays himself on the line, warts n'
all, spewing his poisoned, self-abnegating thoughts for millions of
strangers to hear. Reznor's so relentlessly bleak he must be sincere.
Either that or he's hell of a method actor. Nobody (except maybe Mark
Kozelek of Red House Painters) is taking confessional songwriting to
Reznor's extremes. If he comes off sounding like a suicidal megalomaniac in
primal scream therapy, so be it. It's a great spectacle, if nothing else.
While Reznor's lyrics are affecting and amusing in their excessive
darkness, his music-at times equally as extreme as the words-seems to have
become more interesting in its use of strange textures and distortion.
The Downward Spiral may be less accessible than Pretty Hate Machine but
Reznor's pop savvy still resonates often enough to assure his record
company that it still has another platinum platter on its hands.
Fortunately, those who dig noise and distortion won't go wanting either.
Reznor's unhinged persona is in your face from moment one. "Mr. Self
Destruct" barges in with a locomotive chug and stabbing guitars con mucho
warpage, building to an annihilating intensity. Reznor charges up "Piggy",
a subdued slinky number with subtle use of black noise and chilling synth
miasma, over which he intones, "Nothing can stop me now/because I don't
care anymore". That may be Trent's manifesto, unless it's "Your God is dead
and no one cares/if there is a hell I'll see you there."
More unconventional sounds appear on the funky-as-hell "Ruiner", wherein a
synth imitates a malfunctioning windshield wiper. A nasty guitar solo
contributes to the track's epic chaos. In "Eraser", my favorite cut here,
Reznor screams as if his dick's been struck by lightning, "hate me/smash
me/erase me/kill me" over an ominous synth drone and some Bad Moon Rising
era Sonic Youth guitar plinks. After this madness the gothic, funereal
instrumental beauty of "A Warm Place" nicely drains the tension.
On "Closer" Reznor wields Prince's lubricious rhythms to Gary Numan's
frozen waterfall synth majesty. This is robotic electrosoul whose subtext
is that sex can never go too far, that too much is not enough. It could be
a hit single if it weren't for the line "I want to fuck you like an
At least three more songs deserve plaudits but I've already surpassed my
word count. To sum it up, The Downward Spiral is a hell of an album, in all
senses of the word. Reznor's musical integrity and lyrical megalomania cut
through my cynicism and won me over big time. I kind of feel ashamed.
Added to Smashed Up Sanity thanks to Gaby Boffa.
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.