Rediscovering Pretty Hate Machine

Posted: November 25, 2013 in General Rants and Raves
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For some reason, Nine Inch Nails stands apart in my mind from other industrial bands.  I just don’t categorize it with the rest.  Not because the band is better, or worse, or different.  Even though I tell myself that shunning something because it’s popular is a shallow, silly thing to do, I suspect that I still do this with NIN despite my best intentions.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I discovered industrial music roughly around the time 1989 faded into 1990.  The first bands I discovered were Ministry, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and Skinny Puppy, and this soon branched out to Meat Beat Manifesto, Front Line Assembly , and other bands mostly from the Wax Trax label.  One day in the parking lot at my high school, a friend was blasting this insane music from his car and it turned out to be NIN’s first album, Pretty Hate Machine.

nin - phm

I loved it instantly and bought my own copy.  NIN joined the ranks of all those other bands I just mentioned, all of which were blowing my mind as I was learning more and more about this whole new genre of music.

I vaguely remember that Pretty Hate Machine was a bit obscure at first, just like any industrial release, but eventually it caught on like wildfire.  Videos started showing up on MTV and people who would find industrial music revolting overall started to become NIN fans.  By the time the second album, The Downward Spiral, showed up, NIN were a bonafide mainstream success.  I remember being excited about this phenomenon at first, thinking that the industrial genre would somehow be legitimized by some mainstream popularity and that increased awareness would just allow for more bands to form up and deliver more of this great music.

After a while, though, I found myself sorta resenting the band’s success.  Not overtly, but it sorta crept into my subconsciousness over time.  Somehow it didn’t really mean anything to be a fan of Nine Inch Nails, because it seemed like everybody was a fan.  Industrial was some sort of secret club for people who like to wear a lot of black, and something seemed wrong when metalheads and football players also started to wear NIN t-shirts.  As I’ve recognized often enough in others, I guess too much of my personal identity had gotten wrapped up in being a fan of an obscure form of music.  Somehow, NIN breaking into the mainstream made them less cool.  I’m not proud of that, but I think that’s definitely what happened in my head at the time.

So, I mostly drifted away from Nine Inch Nails.  It wasn’t only because of the superficial reason stated above, but also because I found that the newer music didn’t grab me in the same way as the first couple releases.  I did love the single for The Perfect Drug and maybe one or two remixes along the way, but the only album I’ve purchased since The Downward Spiral is With Teeth, from many years later–I was briefly excited about it but that faded quickly and today I can’t recall any of the music from that CD.

Recently, the shuffle mode on my phone has seen fit to choose, from my library of roughly 3000 songs, several songs from Pretty Hate Machine.  And you know what?  They’re still really darn good.  It makes me want to kick myself for excluding NIN from my personal definition of “industrial music” for so long.  That album is just as much a part of the roughly-1990 scene as other releases such as Front Line Assembly’s Caustic Grip, Skinny Puppy’s Too Dark Park, and Ministry’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste.

So maybe in a way this is my personal apology to Trent Reznor for turning up my nose at his band for becoming too darn popular and no longer bolstering my identity as someone who was into cool music that nobody else even knew about.  I remain a fan mostly of his early work, but still, I think it’s time for me to bring Pretty Hate Machine back out into the light again.  I know that a few years back he released a remastered version–I think I’ll give that a listen.

  1. This is still, without doubt, one of the greatest albums ever. I love it. I still get so much out of every listen. I will listen to Pretty Hate Machine until the day I die. I think that a lot of us who grew up with NIN kinda got a bit fed up when he became more and more popular – it didn’t fit with the obscure elitism thing I guess, but good call. I think I’m going to put it on now. 🙂

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