Nine Inch Nails
Signing a recording contract is the biggest day in a musician's life. Often a musician is so excited they sign on the dotted line with little consideration of the long term.
Consider Trent Reznor who had been in and out of several groups and even managed to do some recording. Now what? He formed the Industrial Rock outfit Nine Inch Nails. That's what. On the strength of a three song demo Nine Inch Nails got signed by TVT Records. And this was where the thing got weird. TVT was a label known for putting out TV and movie theme compilation albums. They also produced instrumental cover versions of adult pop hits to capture the elevator music market (how conservative can you get). What were they thinking? A chance to branch out?
"Industrial Nation," released in '88, stands as an awesome debut. However, the TVT label boss didn't think much of it. Couldn't sell that gem to the folks who watch "Rockford Files" reruns in the afternoons (which had pretty much been TVT's marketing plan). "Pretty Hate Machine" rolled out next with "Head Like a Hole." Two years of non-stop touring could only push it to #75 on the Album Charts.
The inevitable happened in '92. TVT and Reznor had a falling out. Bottom line, Reznor was kept from recording for awhile. No matter, Reznor and his manager formed Nothing Records which was distributed by Interscope. That took care of that. By the end of they year the EP "Broken" was out, a million seller.
Nine Inch Nails won a Best Metal Performance Grammy for "Wish" in '93. Amazingly, Reznor's career didn't immediately tank like most Grammy winners. With "The Downward Spiral" and the "Natural Born Killers" soundtrack the following year, Reznor beat the curse. "The Downward Spiral" featured the guitar work of Adrian Belew and the song "March of the Pigs." Four million sales for that one.
"Further Down The Spiral" EP came in '95 and "The Fragile" in '98. In the meantime, Reznor produced "Antichrist Superstar" for the lovely and talented Marilyn Manson. Reznor provided both his production skills and guitar work. Manson also opened for Nine Inch Nails.
In '00 "Things Falling Apart" was released. Largely remixes of previously released material, the CD ranges from the dreamy "Slipping Away" to the electronic whiz and whir of "The Frail." There's also a great cover of Gary "Cars" Numan's "Metal." But "The Wretched" with the thumping electronic bass line is the Rocker.
Reznor returned in '05 with a new N.I.N. line-up (vocalist/keyboardist Alessandro Cortini, guitarist Aaron North, A Perfect Circle/ex-Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White and drummer Jerome Dillon) for "With Teeth" and supporting tour.
Two years later, Nine Inch Nails unleashed "Year Zero." Reznor claimed the Bush administration was the chief inspiration behind the album's bleak vision of the future. "As an American, I'm appalled by the behavior of our government and the direction that it has taken . . . and its arrogance," said Reznor. "I decided to write an essay about where the world might be if we continue down the path that we're on with a neo-con-esque government doing whatever it pleases." The set contained "My Violent Heart," "Meet Your Master" and "The Great Destroyer."
Prior to the album's release, the group was busy shooting a video for the track "Survivalism" (a single from "Year Zero") in L.A. before embarking on a European tour. While that was happening they issued their live album, "Beside You In Time" on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats. The 19 song disc featured performances filmed during NIN's '06 summer and winter North American tours.
To promote "Year Zero," there were more than a dozen of listening parties around the U.S. with the first happening in Salt Lake City, a month before the album was out.
N.I.N's '08 instrumental album "Ghosts I - IV" made its initial appearance as a digital download. The collection's first nine tracks were free. Reznor said the album, recorded in '07, was "a soundtrack for daydreams." A CD version arrived later.
Reznor and crew proved to be a prolific bunch. Just weeks after "Ghosts I - IV" landed N.I.N. issued "The Slip" with blistering, angst riddled vocals. Passing once again on working with a record label for distribution, the album was initially available only on the group's web site. Over a month later, N.I.N. released a 'hard copy' of "The Slip." The CD was available as a limited-edition two-disc set packaged with a DVD of N.I.N. rehearsals and a 24-page booklet.
Nine Inch Nails headed out on tour - and even there they had a twist. Any time a major group goes out scalpers are never far behind. They buy huge blocks of tickets and sell them just before the concert to desperate fans - capitalism at its best except it's usually illegal. Of course, that doesn't stop them. Since Nine Inch Nails hadn't been out since '05, the demand was high. To thwart scalpers the group had fans purchase concert tickets on their website (NIN.com). Each ticket had the buyer's name printed on it so purchasing large blocks undetected or scalping them became more difficult.
But it's always the unexpected that happens on the road. While on their '08 North American Lights In The Sky tour, N.I.N. announced that they were parting ways with drummer Josh Freese following the completion of trek. Freese, who had been with N.I.N. since '05, resigned for personal reasons. "Yes, [Josh and I] are still dear friends," wrote frontman Trent Reznor in an online statement. A few weeks later, N.I.N. selected Ilan Rubin (from Lostprophets) to replace Freese. "We recently invited [Rubin] out to rehearse with us and he blew us away," wrote Reznor in another online post. "[He's] the perfect guy to pick up the sticks after Josh leaves us at the end of the year."
But the defections didn't stop with Freese. In late '08, Cortini announced his departure from the group to "explore other paths in music."
Then came word that the U.S. Military was using N.I.N. music (along with songs by Metallica, Drowning Pool, AC/DC and others) to torture political prisoners - primarily in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture," wrote Reznor in an online post.
So let's put politics behind us. N.I.N launched their joint '09 tour with Jane's Addiction in West Palm Beach, FL. Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello's side project, Street Sweeper, was also onboard. "Our tour . . . just got that much cooler," said Reznor.
Morello? Ah yes, more politics.
Reznor shocked an '09 Bonnaroo Festival audience in Manchester, TN, when he announced that the concert was the band's "last show ever in the United States." The group still had a European tour scheduled.
"I'll keep going," added Reznor. "But I think I'm going to lose my... mind if I keep doing this." Of course, Reznor changed his mind. Just a few weeks later, the band scheduled a handful of small-venue U.S. performances - the Wave Goodbye club tour. "N.I.N. as a touring live band . . . is stopping," explained Reznor. "I think creatively, my time would be better spent on other stuff that could be N.I.N. or outside N.I.N."
The first project was "outside." Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig and past collaborator Atticus Ross launched How To Destroy Angels. Following the free download of their self-titled EP (a full-length album is expected in '11), Reznor and Ross signed on to record the score for the David Fincher-directed Facebook film The Social Network. "I've always loved David's work but quite honestly I wondered what would draw him to tell that story," wrote Reznor on his website. "When I actually read the script and realized what he was up to, I said goodbye to that free time I had planned."
Reznor produced the soundtracks for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and David Lynch's Lost Highway. However, The Social Network was the first time Reznor was responsible (with Ross) for a film's complete score.
While Reznor may have appreciated Fincher's work he was not enthusiastic about the movie's subject. In an interview published just after the film hit theaters he accurately pointed out "that if as many people really listened to Joy Division as list them on their Facebook page, Joy Division would be bigger than U2." Reznor also chafed at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg being compared with the likes of Apple's Steve Jobs. "I highly disagree with that," said Reznor. "He was in the right place, at the right time, with a functional tool."
Still, Reznor won the Best Score trophy for The Social Network at the '11 Golden Globes (Hollywood's Foreign Press Association) in Beverly Hills. Reznor described the win as "surreal". At the time of the award he was busy writing the score for another Fincher film, The Girl With The Dagon Tattoo.
Just prior to The Girl With The Dagon Tattoo arriving in theaters Reznor was interviewed by the BBC. "I need to commit to doing something different [than 'album/tour, album/tour'], and that doesn't mean I'm not going to return to that [Nine Inch Nails] at some point," said Reznor, adding that he planned to work on material for N.I.N. in the near future.
So less than four years after pulling N.I.N. off the road, Reznor stated that the group was going to tour again - though in an updated configuration. "The band is reinventing itself from scratch," reported Reznor. The line-up was comprised of Eric Avery (Jane's Addiction), Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Alessandro Cortini (N.I.N.), Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv), Ilan Rubin (N.I.N.), and Reznor.
But before the tour began, Avery quit. The bassist was last on the road with Garbage and the thought of another extended trek did not appeal to him. "I really want to focus on my musical life here in Los Angeles, on film work in particular," wrote Avery on Facebook. "As the (N.I.N.) tour dates kept growing I just got overwhelmed."
N.I.N. recruited former member Robin Finck to replace Avery.
Nine Inch Nails issued their first music in five years with the release of the song "Came Back Haunted" in June of '13. But the very next day, and only weeks after Avery bailed, Belew followed suit saying that "no one is at fault" but "it just was not working."
"Before this goes too far let me say this: I greatly respect Trent and the music he makes," added Belew. The Avery/Belew departures came prior to the release of N.I.N.'s comeback album "Hesitation Marks," and supporting tour.
1989 Pretty Hate Machine
1992 Broken (EP)
1994 The Downward Spiral
1999 The Fragile
2005 With Teeth
2007 Year Zero
2008 Ghosts I-IV
2008 The Slip
2013 Hesitation Marks
"Pretty Hate Machine" stands as Nine Inch Nails most forceful and best CD. "The Downward Spiral" and "Industrial Nation" are next. In between, Reznor and his compatriots had a slack period with the "Broken" EP. Compounding the damage is "Fixed," and remixes of "Broken." Both "The Frail" and "Things Falling Apart" have their moments but neither is a match for Nine Inch Nails' earlier work.
"With Teeth" represents a bit of a departure for N.I.N. The synth laden smash-thrash of the past has been displaced by more melody. Even so, the album claimed the top spot on the Billboard album chart a week after its release. There's some killer material. "You Know What You Are?" with David Grohl on drums (they don't get much better than that) is a great track. So is the brutal, riff driven "The Hand That Feeds."
The Bush reign has clearly shown you can fool some of the people all of the time. Just enough to keep you in power and justify further entitlements. Give Bush credit, his administration has taken corruption to a new level and distilled it with the secret mechanizations of the Nixon era for a truly vile government that has left the U.S. morally, politically, socially and economically bankrupt. The "stay the course" mentality in Iraq is only designed to keep the war going until Bush leaves town. That way, the inevitable failure can be blamed on somebody else - preferably a Democrat. The human cost doesn't matter when there's political hay to be made. And that's what the Bushies will spend the rest of their days doing. Spinning history, propping up their house of cards, trying to convince the faithful it was all done in their best interest.
Pearl Jam, Green Day and several other groups took Bush and his cohorts to task but it didn't changed much, if anything. Too bad. What was needed in the Spring of '07 was someone with a genuine fire to drive nine inch nails into the administration's mendacity. Reznor and company seemed capable of delivering that album. And "Year Zero" starts that way.
The dense and dramatic "Hyperpower!" sets the stage with an epic instrumental flurry. "The Beginning Of The End" rides an insistent rhythm while "Survivalism" is undeniably powerful. In the midst of this "at war" motif Reznor also manages to incorporate his own struggles with inner demons and drugs. And he does so while maintaining the battle and military context. Even so, the album leans toward dark, atmospheric pieces that give voice to the "deceivers" revealing what they are really thinking. They are evil but want to win at all costs. As a theatrical device, it's OK, but it seems riddled with desperation rather than fury. With its made up war, endless lies, spins, lapses of memory - to say nothing of judgment - and brutal arrogance; a harsh, frontal attack on the Bushies' downward spiral is in order.
A war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) devolved into a battle against terror - because their were no WMDs. Turns out the previous Iraqi government, a dictatorship the U.S. had, way back when, been just fine with, didn't have much use for terrorist either. So it became a battle for democracy and freedom. But Bush's efforts did little except restrict everyone's freedom in the U.S. and abroad.
"My Violent Heart," "Meet Your Master" and "The Great Destroyer" address these "fine points," and Reznor's turn to sobriety, with intensity and urgency. His dissertation on where we are and where we are headed, if things don't drastically change, is often potent and disturbing but "Year Zero" could have and should have hit harder.
"Ghosts I - IV," an atmospheric and often moody instrumental album was unexpected - not only for the distribution method but also the absence of vocals. Both two points earned the set a lot of press - probably more than it deserved. "The Slip," on the other hand, measures up. Lyrically, Reznor's prevalent themes reappear. So do N.I.N.'s impenetrable guttural blasts.
Titling a song "Demon Seed" is like raising a red flag. It better be good - no brilliant - even if it's the set closer. A collection of riffs, noise and back alley drums, "Demon Seed" is a diabolically inspired cacophony.
"1,000,000," a brilliant riff Rock song, derives its power from a driving rhythm lashed to a distorted guitar - as it should. "Discipline," is sparked by an infectious groove that could be an amped up Lenny Kravitz track (though far beyond anything Kravitz ever attempted - too bad).
Reznor might restrain his New Age tendencies (the electronic noodling that opens a handful of songs) but it's not worth quibbling about - let him have his indulgence.
"Hesitation Marks" is aptly named. The many cuts don't go too deep. Most of the mid-tempo songs are either synth-bass driven or lean heavily on percussion. They percolate along when they should be blistering. "Come Back Haunted," the lead single, is surprisingly good for what it is - a Techno creation. Other lead possibilities could have been "All Time Low" with just a taste of Red Hot Chili Peppers funk, or the Pop-Metal "Everything."