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Pretty Hate Machine

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★★★★½
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  • 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