This is the album that started everything. This is the album that shaped the face of the industrial-rock genre as a whole. This is the album that put Nine Inch Nails at the top of the charts and kept them there. This is the album that redefined music. This is Pretty Hate Machine, and boy, are you in for a heck of a ride.
Released in 1989, and then remastered in 2010, Pretty Hate Machine was the debut album as a whole for Nine Inch Nails, and remains one of their most spectacular and awe-inspiring works to this day. Mixing elements of synth and rock, the album features a very unique overall sound, which would later become a trademark of the group. In addition, the album also features powerful and symbolic lyrics, dealing with topics such as religious disposition, infected relationships, and general exploration of ones self. Unfortunately, not all of the songs carry as much weight as their peers, but as a general overview, the tracklist is both provocative and enticing.
The album starts with a musical explosion in the form of Head Like A Hole, one of the most recognized pieces on the tracklist. The spicy lyrics mix perfectly with the song’s dark-synth beat, and makes for an enjoyable experience from the first second to the last. Afterwords, Terrible Lie enters the mix, succeeding Head Like A Hole in an absolutely perfect way. This track retains the aforementioned beat, while also intertwining a staccato-style rhythm, making the song feel bumpy and rigid as it plays. When coupled with Trent Reznor’s vocal style, every element in this song coincides perfectly, and creates a masterpiece that is everything but terrible.
Down In It arrives next in line, which doesn’t necessarily live up to the expectations set by Terrible Lie, but still manages to be an enjoyable track nonetheless. Utilizing a lyrical style that intentionally doesn’t try to keep a rhythm or flow in the beginning, the song feels more like a spoken word poem, focusing on the idea of inner turmoil resulting in the creation of a completely new self. It’s certainly and intriguing piece, just not one that will resonate with all listeners. The following track, Sanctified, falls into the same category as Down In It, in that it suffices as a good song, but doesn’t pop in the ways that Head Like A Hole or Terrible Lie did. Thankfully, the song does manage to produce one of the most entrancing beats on the entire album, and is worth listening to for that factor alone.
The halfway point for the album is marked by Something I Can Never Have, which is arguably the best song on the whole tracklist. A complete diversion from the styles of the previous tunes, this track has a very slow, rhythmic piano melody intermixed with soft-spoken lyrics. Given that it’s a song that deals with the idea of not being able to have what you want, it’s one that will certainly have an impact on many listeners, and have them breaking their fingers on the replay button. After this, we have Kinda I Want To, which reverts back to the previously established styles of the album. Falling into the same area as Down In It and Sanctified, this track serves as a re-entry into the dark-synth rhythms and lyrics the listener had grown accustomed to, and simply stands as another good song on the album.
Sin takes the seventh position on the tracklist, with the fastest beat and perhaps the most sinister vibe to it. Reznor’s vocal stylings shine here particularly, which exude a very breathy, almost desperate feel to them. As a whole, Sin hits every area beautifully, and will mandate multiple replays from any listener. Beyond this is That’s What I Get, which, unfortunately, is the least impressive track on the album. Unlike its predecessors, this song features a slow, predictable style, which, when coupled with its uninspired lyrics about the loss of love, makes for a generally generic listening experience. It’s not that That’s What I Get is necessarily a bad song, it’s just that it feels completely cut-and-dry when compared the other tracks on the album.
Thankfully, The Only Time arrives next on the list, which has potentially the best lyrics of any song on the album, and of any song in Nine Inch Nails’ track history. Featuring a predominant theme of inner exploration and exploitation, the lyrics sport incredible depth and enticing metaphors, and could be read into multiple different ways depending on the listener. Sure, they’re gritty and controversial lyrics, but they’re artistic nonetheless, and serve as a staple of Pretty Hate Machine overall. And finally, in the last position on the album, we have Ringfinger. With lyrics that discuss the idea of the abuse of marriage, this song manages to successfully establish its style and meaning without being generic or unoriginal, and serves as a great sendoff for the listeners of this album. From start to finish, Ringfinger will keep the listener entranced with its style, and when it ends, they’ll want to listen to it, and the whole album, all over again.
There’s a reason why now, twenty five years later, Nine Inch Nails still performs songs off of this album in their live shows. It’s rare that debut albums carry as much weight as Pretty Hate Machine does, as well as stand the test of time with both grace and elegance. Even though not every song on the tracklist is a star, the overall product is a supernova, and will be remembered for years and years to come. Pretty Hate Machine is, simply put, a must-have for any music lover.
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