“Closer,” “Wish,” “The Perfect Drug”
Who Are They?
One of the most influential industrial music projects in music history.
Though Nine Inch Nails is usually referred to as a group, producer/singer/songwriter/instrumentalist/deity Trent Reznor is really the only official member. Trent started out playing keyboards in a band called Exotic Birds in 1987. Once he quit that group, he landed a job as assistant engineer and janitor (what a combo!) at Right Track Studios. One day, he asked studio owner Bart Koster for some studio time to record some demos. Unable to find a band that could do everything he wanted to achieve with the demos, Trent decided to play all the instruments (minus the drums) himself.
After playing a few shows with Skinny Puppy, Trent signed with TVT Records and released Pretty Hate Machine under the name Nine Inch Nails in 1989. (Fun fact: Trent said in 1994 that there is no meaning behind the band name. He chose it because it abbreviated easily. Other rumored explanations include a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion with nine-inch spikes and Freddy Krueger’s nine-inch knife fingers.)
Pretty Hate Machine was praised by critics, but failed to break the Top 70 on the Billboard charts. The album did, however, become one of the first independently released records to reach platinum status.
Three music videos accompanied the album, but it was the explicit video for “Sin” that gave Trent his first taste of controversy. If you’ve never seen the video, you’re not alone. The full version never made it to air, but you can watch the whole thing here. (Warning: The video is definitely NSFW because it contains images of pierced genitals. So if you’re not into that, avoid it.)
(Fun fact: During promotion for Pretty Hate Machine, Trent and his touring band were asked what shows they’d like to appear on. They jokingly replied with Dance Party USA. So what happened? They were booked on the show and actually made an appearance. Be careful what you wish for.)
After the tour, Trent and company faced pressure from TVT to produce a follow-up record. Trent tried to get the label to terminate his contract, but of course, that wasn’t going to happen. So he began recording under various pseudonyms. The result was the Broken EP, which was released in 1992.
Broken marked a drastic change in NIN’s sound. The songs were much more abrasive, which was a preview of what was to come. Two of these tracks (“Happiness in Slavery” and “Wish”) earned Nine Inch Nails two Grammy Awards, both for Best Metal Performance. (Fun fact: After winning the award for “Wish,” Trent joked that his epitaph should read: “REZNOR: Died. Said ‘fist fuck,’ won a Grammy.” “Wish” is still the only Grammy Award-winning song to include that phrase.)
NIN’s second full-length album, 1994’s The Downward Spiral, was recorded in a studio Trent built in the house where the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate. Charming, eh?
The Downward Spiral debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 (ahead of Soundgarden’s Superunknown) and remains NIN’s highest-selling release to date. The record’s success was mostly due to the lead single “Closer” and its bizarre music video.
With “Closer” came more controversy. A heavily edited version of the video received frequent rotation on MTV, but it still didn’t sit well with people. The video features graphic sadomasochistic and sacrilegious imagery (but no genital shots, so it’s perfectly safe for work).
NIN also gave a particularly aggressive performance at Woodstock ’94. It’s so good that I’ve included it for your viewing pleasure. (I actually watch this at least once a week because I’m just that obsessed with it.)
Five years after The Downward Spiral, NIN released the double album The Fragile at the tail end of the ‘90s.
Where Are They Now?
Apparently planning to release some new material (finally)!
Six years elapsed between the release of The Fragile and 2005’s With Teeth. During that time, Trent was battling alcoholism and substance abuse. The album is heavily influenced by his struggle and eventual recovery.
Along with being a criminally underrated album, With Teeth featured a “leaner,” much less abrasive sound. With Teeth is also the last NIN studio album to have a Parental Advisory label.
In 2007, NIN released Year Zero, which Trent refers to as “the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist.” Essentially, it’s a concept album that revolves around a futuristic version of the United States where the government has seized absolute control of the country and reverted to a Christian fundamentalist theocracy (or “Year 0”). It gets a little more complicated, so I won’t give you the entire synopsis here. I will say that there’s apparently a TV adaptation in the works.
After releasing Ghosts I-IV and The Slip in 2008, Trent decided to make NIN “disappear for a while” and focus on his new project, How To Destroy Angels, and win an Oscar for Best Original Score for The Social Network.
But Why Nine Inch Nails?
Trent recently answered some questions for fans on Reddit and revealed that 2013 looks like a good year to bring Nine Inch Nails back. He will also appear on the next Queens of the Stone Age record.
What Does Sam Think?
I think I’ve alluded to my love for NIN quite a few times on here, and now I finally have an excuse to gush about it.
First of all, The Downward Spiral is one of the greatest albums of the ‘90s. Period. I know I say that about a lot of albums, but this is seriously a masterpiece. This is also a pivotal album for NIN and Trent. This was the record that defined Nine Inch Nails after the softer-edged Pretty Hate Machine. Though I do love PHM, The Downward Spiral just has a much more aggressive sound.
And can I just mention how amazing the Broken EP is? I mean, two of the songs on that EP won Grammys. Yeah, Grammys don’t mean much, but it’s still a big deal for a band like NIN to win some.
Let’s not forget about With Teeth either. It’s pretty underrated, in my opinion. It’s probably the most personal NIN album considering the road Trent was on when he wrote most of the songs. With Teeth isn’t classic industrial NIN, but it’s still great.
If I could wish for one thing for Christmas, it would probably be for Trent to get his head out of his ass and stop with the How To Destroy Angels thing because it’s just lame. Nine Inch Nails is great. His film scores are great. We don’t need How To Destroy Angels. There, I said it. Come back to the light, Trent.
Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway, I’m pumped to see where Nine Inch Nails will end up with this new material. For now, I’ll just have to watch the Woodstock ’94 performance about a million more times and creep out the small population of the world that hasn’t seen the “Closer” video.
-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.