Monday, February 2, 2009

February 2: Nine Inch Nails, "The Downward Spiral"

Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Album: The Downward Spiral
Year: 1994
Label: Nothing/Interscope

Try as they might, no band or artist can duplicate the amazing sounds that Trent Reznor creates when making music for his primary band, Nine Inch Nails. This is no more evident than on the bands' 1994 release, the album that is arguably the most important electronic/industrial record ever, The Downward Spiral.

In the studio, Reznor "is" the entire band as he plays/programs all of the instruments and supplies the guitars, lyrics, and vocals. Taking programed drums, inserting annihilating guitars, and a myriad of sounds and textures, NIN uses The Downward Spiral to set the standard for industrial records. Wild time signatures which only a computer could play enable Reznor to push into never before explored musical territory.

Pulling all this together, The Downward Spiral is, as its name implies, a dark and dismal tale of the undoing and collapse of a man. Reznor's lyrics are as bleak and dismal as any that have ever been penned. In fact, the album is a story, following a man from his psychological breakdown, all the way to his lonely suicide as the record closes. Whether singing or screaming, Trent understands his lyrics to the point where they truly become a part of him and reveal his soul. The juxtaposition between the speedy beats and the depressed lyrics show the inner pain of man losing control in a completely new and startling light.

The Downward Spirial spawned two very unlikely singles in "Closer" and "Hurt." The former was the song that shot Reznor to the status of "alternative icon" as it stripped down and criticized one of the most basic human functions. "Hurt," meanwhile, is arguably one of the most brilliantly painful lyrics ever written. Rarely does an artist reveal themselves to such a point as Reznor did with this song. It is beyond pain and beyond heartbreaking; and yet completely universal. So amazing was this song, that the late Johnny Cash recorded his own gut-wrenching rendition.

In the music world of 1994, grunge was all the rage and "g funk" rap was bursting onto the scene. When Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral, it was truly a one-of-a-kind record. The sounds were groundbreaking and, combined with the lyrics, the record was able to bring "industrial" music into popular culture. Had it not been for this record, countless bands (Marylin Manson, KMFDM, Tool, etc) may have never made it out of the garage. Few albums can completely define a genere. The Downward Spiral happens to be one that can, therefore making it an essential for every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Runier," "The Becoming," and "Hurt."

1 comment:

Steve Balboni said...

This one still gets a decent amount of play at my house even though I don't really listen to anything else in the genre. Its still amazing.

I caught NiN on the Downward Spiral tour in February of 95. Great show and I bumped into the guys from Pantera.