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Pretty Hate Machine

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★★★★½
(385 Reviews)

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Unavailable domestically for a number of years and with his new album ’With Teeth’ due at the end of April, there is bound to be renewed interest in his ground-breaking debut. Originally released in 1989, this Interscope Import version features the same 10 tracks as the TVT edition. Includes the singles, ’Head Like A Hole’, ’Sin’ and ’Down In It’. Nothing/Interscope.Considered the breakthrough album that delivered a more palatable version of industrial music to the commercial audience, Pretty Hate Machine left its dingy mark on pop culture. The abrasive ”sonarchy” of the album was first churned by despondent club-goers who roiled with the rhythms and aligned with the angst-ridden convictions. Since its release, the album’s tempered deviations came to signify an aesthetic reverie for machine-driven martyrdom. Permeated by hissing engines and dissonant strains, the tracks cascade outside channels of modern complacency. Hits like ”Head Like a Hole” and ”Down in It” are recognized by the acidic beats, piercing riffs, and lyrical hostilities which snare the listener with disparaging rhapsody. Not for the light-headed, Pretty Hate Machine afflicts the inner sanctum and strikes a nerve. –Lucas Hilbert

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  • Woe. Pain. Anger. Rejection. And some very catchy industrial beats.

    Trent Reznor has become legendary for the sound he perfected in “Pretty Hate Machine,” his exceptional debut album. Wrapped in catchy industrial beats and sizzling basslines, he exposes all the rage and pain from being betrayed. Like a bad breakup, it’s raw and rough and painful, but there’s a strange catharsis once it’s over.

    It opens on a high note with the ear-blowing “Head Like A Hole,” which alternates between dark techno and explosive hard-rock. “Bow down before the one you serve/you’re gonna get what you deserve… Head like a hole, black as your soul/I’d rather DIE than give you control!” Reznor snarls. And he sounds like he means it, too.

    That mix of rage and bitterness permeate the songs that follow. Not every song is a rockin’ ragefest: “Something I Can Never Have” is a sweeping, haunted ballad with Reznor lamenting that “I’m starting to scare myself.” It’s one of the most powerful songs on a hard-hitting record, and shows Reznor’s anguished vocals at their best.

    But the majority are harder, angrier songs with Reznor’s rough industrial-pop, raw singing and sparse electronic beats. The second half does drag a bit, but is pulled back up by the explosive “Sin” (“You give me the reason/you give me control/I gave you my purity/and my purity you stole!”) and hauntingly out-there “Ringfinger.”

    “Pretty Hate Machine” could, in a sense, be seen as a concept album — a mapping of the painful emotions in a breakup. Okay, painful breakups are not a big deal in the musical world — every cheesy popstar does them. The difference is, Trent Reznor does them with passion, genuine anger, and explosive music that mirrors the betrayed feelings.

    Reznor gets much flack for his angsty songwriting and accompanying vocal style. But it has to be admitted that even when the songwriting is sub-par — the rather whiny, it’s-God’s-fault “Terrible Lie” — Reznor’s rough vocals bring them to life in all their painful glory.

    This is also Nine Inch Nails’ most minimalist album — no soundscapes, just the guitars and electronics. The instrumentation matches the theme of inverted love — Reznor throws in some poppy industrial beats, which manage to be darkly catchy and gritty at the same time. Underlying all of this is some smoldering, twisted guitar and drum machines.

    Explosive rage, betrayal, confusion and pain lie at the heart of “Pretty Hate Machine,” an unforgettable debut that Reznor has yet to equal in pure emotion.

    Posted on December 2, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Sometimes overlooked for the industrial masterpiece The Downward Spiral, I find that Pretty Hate Machine packs a punch unlike any other album of its kind. While TDS has vocals bathed in distortion and instruments overdubbed so many times that some of the tracks become white noise (albeit in a way that benefits the record), PHM is starkly contrasting, with Trent’s voice bare and in the open, with more mechanical, keyboard-oriented songs over the metal-industrial sounds to come in latter records. To truly define the term “synthesizer”, listen to the keyboard line in Terrible Lie; to define industrial rock and its origins, listen to this album.

    Song By Song:

    1.) Head Like A Hole- One of several hit singles off of the album, Head Like A Hole is a perfect way to get this debut rocker to a start. With beat box effects, synthesizer work, angry vocals and wonderful chorus guitar, Head Like A Hole is essential Nine Inch Nails, and would be expanded upon greatly live; however, the studio version, regardless of future remixes and live cuts, is a classic. 5/5

    2.) Terrible Lie- My personal favorite Nine Inch Nails song, or one of- there are so many to choose one, but this one sure slates high on the list. Terrible Lie is straight-ahead rock, probably the heaviest on the album, and truly an incredible song. A live and studio staple, the song is one of the album’s, and NIN’s, greatest efforts. 5/5

    3.) Down In It- The root of it all. Trent has stated that this is the first song he ever sat down and wrote, and its very strong for having been the then-amateur Trent’s first recording. The vocals are very percussive, almost a rap, as the classic NIN keyboard lines and beat box drums pour into your ears. The first single/Halo as well as being featured on the first album, this is essential listening as it is the first NIN song, and began the legacy. 5/5

    4.) Sanctified- If this album has a weak point, and very few there are, I’d place my mark here. The song was an experiment by Trent to make a song using only one bassline, and while it is intriguing and a good track, the song can get monotonous, especially after the one-two-three punch of the first few tracks. Still a decent track nonetheless. 3/5

    5.) Something I Can Never Have- A slow track, this song features factory noises in the background as gentle, fragile piano accompanies a vocal so emotional it gives you tears in your eyes as you sing it, almost like you can level with the poor being wrenching his very soul as he groans the lyrics. For one of the most surprisingly emotional songs on the album, set your attention right here. 5/5

    6.) Kinda I Want To- Sounds almost like video game music, and is a boppy little tune- a bit of a relief after the silent anger of the previous track. Nothing too special, but definitely a great track- the keyboard bit during the choruses is fantastic. 4/5

    7.) Sin- Up there as one of the best tracks on the album. The song sounds very mature, and is probably the best representation of the talent Reznor had at such an early stage in his career. If there is one song you listen to off of this album, despite my tendency to lean toward terrible lie, I’d have to put my money on this track, as its just so good. Crank this track. 5/5

    8.) That’s What I Get- Along with Sanctified, one of the weaker tunes off the album. Although I really do like this track, I do have to admit that it is one of the weakest songs in the NIN catalogue, with only a lone keyboard and some percussion here and there holding it together. 2/5

    9.) The Only Time- Here we go. This song is so damn groovy, and starts off with some awesome bass and Trent Reznor’s wonderfully employed use and delivery of the word f*** to really get a reaction out of the listener. The keyboards and effects in this song will really get you moving, and the lyrics are great to sing. Extraordinary, check it out. 5/5

    10.) Ringfinger- Classic song. The keyboard effects are awesome, and feature some of the strongest passages from the entire album. This song gets forgotten against such hits as Sin, Terrible Lie, and Head Like A Hole, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. 5/5

    Many will argue that Trent Reznor’s/NIN’s The Downward Spiral or even The Fragile are the works closest to him. However, in my opinion, I believe that Trent Reznor’s most personal effort is right here- the lyrics are all from his teenage diary, and the songs are all the best examples of what had been stewing inside of him from his early years until this album was cut. For classic NIN, and some of Reznor’s best work, look to Pretty Hate Machine- you won’t be disappointed.

    Posted on December 2, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • “-I think there’s something strangely musical about noise.” Well, I have to say that there is something strangely musical about Trent Reznor that makes Nine Inch Nails one of my favorite bands. Pretty Hate Machine is by far the best Nails CD ever to be released! However, if you have only heard stuff off of The Downward Spiral, Broken or The Fragile, you might want to concider listening to the CD first before buying it, cause no NIN album is alike.

    Posted on December 2, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Back in the early 90s, W. Axl Rose used to rave about Pretty Hate Machine to any interviewer who would listen to him. In those days, when Axl recommended something, it got me plenty curious. But then I talked to my friend, Chris, a member of our Armed Forces at the time, who was seriously into industrial music. To him, industrial meant Front 242, Ministry, and The Revolting Cocks, not Nine Inch Nails. Chris told me Trent Reznor was not the real deal and forbade me in no uncertain terms from purchasing Pretty Hate Machine.A few years later, the Downward Spiral came out and the critical acclaim for it was thunderous. By this time, Axl’s whereabouts were something of a mystery as were those of Chris. With no one else to influence me, I listened to the critics and purchased a copy of the Downward Spiral. I gave it several listens, but to be honest, it didn’t do much for me. I put it in my CD holder where a few years later, my brother (a high school student at the time) would discover it. He and my sister wore that CD out and my brother soon became a NIN completist. You know the type who buys not only every album, but also every single. Clearly my siblings “got” what Trent Reznor was up to and I didn’t. I figured the “industrial pop” scene just wasn’t my thing.Fast-forward another 6 months or so and I was now living in a small village in western Kenya. My sister would send me music tapes with some regularity and you have no idea how much I appreciated them (that is, unless you’ve already read my review of Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes album). One of the tapes my sister happened to send me was Pretty Hate Machine. At that point, my thought process went something like this…”Nice gesture, but she should know by now that I’m not crazy about NIN. Doesn’t she remember that the copy of the Downward Spiral she and my brother play so often came from me after I found it relatively uninspiring? Well, I guess it can’t hurt to give it a listen. After all, I am desperate for new music.”Once I put that tape in my battery-powered boom box, it wasn’t long before I realized that I should have listened to Axl and not Chris so many years earlier. I could see why Chris never cared for it – he’s not much for anything that sounds too poppy and Pretty Hate Machine is shockingly accessible. I mean, just have a listen to Front 242 sometime and imagine someone who counts them among their favorite bands also enjoying Pretty Hate Machine. Impossible? No, but pretty darn unlikely.Once I’d given Pretty Hate Machine a few listens, I had no qualms about reversing my opinion on NIN. I’ve been wrong about bands before and I’ll probably be wrong again at some point. I wrote a letter to my sister thanking her effusively for this very precious gift. Pretty Hate Machine became one of the albums I played most during the remainder of my stay in Kenya along with Type O Negative’s October Rust and Bloody Kisses, Sepultura’s Roots, Metallica’s And Justice for All, Rancid’s And Out Come the Wolves, Weezer’s blue album, and Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes.What made Pretty Hate Machine deserving of such illustrious company? For one thing, it is so obviously a labor of love. Every song sounds lovingly crafted with attention to every nuance (except for production quality which my brother says is poor because Trent didn’t exactly have a lot of money with which to record the album). Another point in PHM’s favor is that it is so catchy. I couldn’t help but hear “Terrible Lie”, “Down In It”, and “Kinda I Want To” in my head while I was out in the rain forest all day. There’s also enough angst on PHM to give Hatful of Hollow-era Morrissey a run for his money. But where Morrissey always somehow sounds playfully above it all even when recounting his most embarrassing experiences, Trent sounds like he really is in emotional pain and doesn’t know what to do about it other than scream.The only people I can’t see this album appealing to are industrial music purists like Chris and individuals who never feel angry or angsty. If you don’t fit into either of those categories, it is high time you check out Pretty Hate Machine assuming you don’t have wise younger siblings who forced you to do so already. Saying you don’t like NIN isn’t a good enough excuse – it wasn’t for me and it isn’t for you either.

    Posted on December 2, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • If you don’t own any NIN’s albums, this is definitely the place to start.

    “The Downward Spiral” will probably forever be Trent Reznor’s most popular and critically acclaimed album. And “The Fragile,” in my opinion is Reznor’s magnum opus. And although those are some of the best albums in modern rock, they both need time and a few plays to get into. “The Downward Spiral” is a classic, no doubt, but it’s so intense, people unfamiliar with NIN may be initially turned off. And with the “The Fragile,” there are a lot of instrumentals with long buildups and climaxes (not that that’s a bad thing). Both of these albums need a few plays to really appreciate. “Pretty Hate Machine” is more meat-and-potatos and gets right to the point with each song. It’s easy to digest these songs with just one listen.

    NIN’s debut album, “Pretty Hate Machine,” is instantly assessable, instantly catchy. Some industrial purists may eschew NIN for being overly assesable/pop, but the hooks in these songs are undeniable. “Pretty Hate Machine” is not the kind of album where you listen to it a few times, every once and a while, or listen to a few songs now and then. “Pretty Hate Machine” is the kind of album that you get hooked on. And it’s not just a few songs, the entire album is mesmerizing.

    From the opening classic “Head Like a Hole” to the closing “Ringfinger” every song is meticulously crafted and delivered. Even if you know nothing at all about Trent Reznor, just by listening to any of NIN’s albums, you get the sense that every song on every one of his albums is a labor of love.

    This is the kind of album that any person can relate to. Trent Reznor takes universal feeling and themes of being rejected, disappointed, screwed over, dejected and depressed, and he puts it to catchy industrial beats. There is a certain healing power to the music of Nine Inch Nails. You feel a certain catharsis when you listen to Trent Reznor’s music.

    “Pretty Hate Machine” is a modern-day classic and a cornerstone in any college/alternative collection.

    Posted on December 2, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now