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.