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Pretty Hate Machine

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★★★★½
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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