Guilty Pleasure: Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

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    Now, listen, I want you to understand that I am above listening to this record.

    Yet…even as I type out this long, mentally-overdue review and hope to god (“Hey, God!”) I’m not accidentally ghetto blasting out Nine Inch Nail’s “Head Like a Hole” into the quiet library where I sit typing, I still have some difficulty understanding why that wouldn’t be the best idea. I like that the fluttery drum machine beats, the ever-present Roland 808 synths, the pseudo-African tinged beats (think George Bush in Africa) could have only been put down by a semi-savvy white boy from Mercer, PA.

    Sorry to say, I haven’t listened to Pretty Hate Machine, or “Halo 2“, as it’s called by devoted ninnys, in a few years, and though I do still know all the words (note: try me), I’m a bit rusty. I don’t even know if I could make it through the record without sitting here red-faced and wincing just a little. So, in order to determine if this should be categorized as a “guilty pleasure,” I propose to make myself your guinea pig. I, a former 15-year-old Trent Reznor expert, will take on my current much older, “improved” self. Track by track, I’ll write up my initial thoughts on each track, “Head Like a Hole” through “Ringfinger” (1 thru 10, for the uninitiated). And if I die, dear god, please know that I donated myself, body and soul, to science.

    That being said, feel free to listen along with me! (Run time is 49:00)

    “Head Like a Hole” – At 0:26, that Roland synth “bass” riff kills me. Not sorry about that. Wince-good lyric: “God Money, let’s go dancin’ on the backs of the bruised!”


    “Terrible Lie” – Tinkly industrial music boxy sounds fall off at the very beginning to Reznor-rap break beat supporting some of the best angular synth hooks of the album, albeit hindered by an awfully audible keyboard choir patch. Reznor goes from screaming to whispering a very quiet, desperate lyric (“my sweet everything/I need someone to hold onto…”) for the outro. It’s kind of sweet.

    “Down In It” – Here my inner 15 year-old self notes that even among ninnys, liking this track is kind of like loving a lame dog, considering that Reznor semi-raps and/or chants a vocally-distorted “Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day …nah na na nah na…” at the end. However, that still isn’t enough to make me turn up my nose.

    “Sanctified” – Oh, for the bridge there’s some real porno sounding bass guitar that’s working against two samples: a melismatic monk’s prayer call and some confessional booth ovie-dialogue. Without a doubt a guilty pleasure. Lyrics: “Heaven’s just a rumor she’ll dispel, as she takes you through the nicest parts of hell.”


    “Something I Can Never Have” – Reznor, truly a skilled pianist, finally breaks down and plays a stage piano for the first time in the record. Otherwise simple and pretty, the song features weird weight-room, weight-lifting (sexy?) breathing. Not sure how I feel about this. The part near the end to listen for: de-tuning and lifting background string sounds.

    “Kinda I Want To” – There is some serious stereo panning going on here, alongside some wonderfully hooky but dated synths and programmed drum loop samples. Song scenario: Reznor runs across some lady he really shouldn’t, but really still wants to bed. Still, I’m putty.

    “Sin” –This track pairs with “Kind of I Want To” thematically and serves as a response. Here Reznor sings about fisting and (obliquely) about dominate/submissive power relationships. You bet this earned the record a Parental Advisory label.


    “That’s What I Get” – This one opens with video-game sounding synth noises, sounding kind of like what we’d get if the two slabs in Pong could talk to each other.

    “The Only Time” – Can’t tell you how I like the sultry opening lyric. It’s too dirty. But the next lyric! Oh, wait for it! “Lay my hands on heaven and the sun and the moon and the stars while the devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car,” directly followed by a Soul-sistah “ooh” sample. One word: AMAZING. I pity you who are not listening along. And while plenty of fun is being poked here, when Reznor does sing “This is the only time I really feel alive,” it isn’t hard to believe him.

    “Ringfinger” – I recommend this song to you. It’s solid work. (Aside from a few painful lyrics at 1:32 and 2:41.) And there is plenty of Pixies-styled, cryptically Biblical dirty talk for any naysayer.

    Conclusion: There is no way that I’m too-good for this record. I love it. Pretty much all of it. And I’m going to be dragging out my Closure live box set soon, so if you’d like to come over and watch it, please do. Oh, and also: Trent Reznor’s favorite color is green and he once had a dearly-loved golden retriever named Daisy Mae that got ripped apart by mad fans. Just so you know.


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