As it was pointed out to me (yet again), I haven’t been writing a lot of reviews lately. There is a reason for this, there simply isn’t as much good music being released on a regular basis these days. However, as time passed me by and days turned into weeks and then weeks into months, I realized that I still listened to a lot of great music and some should be recognized. So I am starting a series of reviews based on old albums in a varying of genres. Some will be albums few have listened to and others will be well known works by well known artists. They all have history and they all have influenced me though. And that is what this is all about. Shaman’s Influences. So let’s get on with it!
Nine Inch Nails aka Trent Reznor started jamming up the idea of “pop music” long before Radiohead graced us with their presence. Throughout their existence, NIN has rotated through genres and members in a way that is only notable to people who like to creates boxes. NIN was always Trent’s project and the varying sounds were all from him. It’s basically a solo project disguised as a band. That said, he has a damn cool head for this stuff.
One of the reasons I am posting this as the first of my new series of Shamanic Influences is because I don’t own a NIN album past Downward Spiral and I almost never listen to that one either. But I don’t need to have those later albums to recognize the ways in which Trent changed music and the idea of a “band.” At one point in time, NIN was considered “industrial” music by some and laughed at by others in the industrial scene. What this shows is that caring about a scene is pointless when you care more about the music you are creating. Ministry never strayed from their roots and they are washed up crap. New Ministry is pointless, they only existed as a product of their time. The more they believed in their teapot, the less they were able to be water and make a new teapot.
NIN just kept making music and Trent’s ideas kept developing. Maybe I would really love some of his newer albums, but the fact that he still holds this much strength within my perspective of music, especially as an artist myself, is telling. He made drum machines work well in pop music without sounding like Flock of Seagulls. He gave a raw human emotion to electronics. A lot was blown-up emotional crap and emotional processing, but that fit with the times and even hindsight shows that he was into something new.
Trent was obviously not the first person to write music that sounded like this, but Trent did handle it in a very raw manner. It was less glam in one sense and more hyperbolic in another. When a person experiences any emotion, that experience is always hyperbolic internally compared to the objective outside viewing of the interaction. This is important to recognize when analyzing pop music and any narrative of art. Trent understood that displaying these over reactions of emotions was what people related to. Add to that some subtle guitar work, interesting-yet minimal-drum programming, and a keyboardists perspective on music theory, and you have a head of music that is relatable, interesting, and honest.
And that’s why this album is the first of this sequence of reviews. Trent really hit upon a new sound, a bit more abrasive than The Cure but a bit less junky than Ministry or Pigface. Less pretentious than Skinny Puppy and more personal than Madonna. It was the embodiment of what good pop music should be (please don’t take this to mean that I am anti the people listed above. The Cure is still very awesome).
I honestly don’t think I will ever grow out of Pretty Hate Machine. I will always enjoy this album, from Head Like A Hole and Terrible Lie to Sin and Ring Finger to Something I Can Never Have and That’s What I Get, Pretty Hate Machine both captures the sensibilities of 80’s pop music and simultaneously shows it the error of its ways. It would be stupid to proclaim some statement about the ways in which Trent changed pop music as a result of this album, so I won’t do that; to me this album displays to me an aesthetic and perspective with which to embrace pop music and the stregths therein. Some think pop music is a bad stamp and label, but it isn’t. Sure, bad pop music sucks, but so does bad PsyTrance, bad dubstep, and bad anything. Nine Inch Nails “Pretty Hate Machine” is not of this category. It is simply catchy, relatable, and honest. And for that, this album will always exist in my collection