Best albums of 1989: #2 Nine Inch Nails “Pretty hate machine”

I don’t remember the exact date. It was probably in the spring of 1990, roughly six or seven months after the album’s release. However, I remember exactly what I was doing and what led to my very first listen to Nine Inch Nails’ debut album, “Pretty hate machine”.

Before I get to that story, though, I just want to clarify a fact that I’ve not been completely clear on to date. I’ve referred to a friend in a few previous posts that I’ve not yet named, the one who got me into my favourite band of the early to mid 1990s, The Wonder Stuff (who incidentally appeared at number five on this list). Elliott, though, was actually more than a friend. He was a ‘foster brother’ who lived with our family for a few years during my teen years. When he moved in, he was into aggressive thrash metal so The Wonder Stuff’s “Eight legged groove machine” was a weird piece in his collection. Gradually, his tastes started to widen and together we really got into ‘alternative’ music together and it was with him that I stayed up to watch and record videos off MuchMusic’s CityLimits on Friday nights.

It was also Elliott that handed me a cassette tape copy of “Pretty hate machine” at exactly the right moment. I’m not sure what had put me in a mood that day but I was deep in the profundity of teen depression and angst and had decided to go out for a night time walk. “Pretty hate machine” was offered and strongly suggested over whatever it was I was planning on slipping into my Sony Sports Walkman and for that I will always be eternally grateful to Elliott. The solitary knock that critics (including Trent Reznor himself) have been able to hang on the album is that it is dark and angry, almost to the point of silliness, but it fit my mood perfectly that night.

Trent Reznor wrote most of the songs and recorded demos of them during his downtime while working at a recording studio. He then recorded the whole album himself, rather than hiring musicians, using synthesizers and a number of samples. (Indeed, he remained the only official member of Nine Inch Nails for many years, only adding Atticus Ross in 2016.) “Pretty hate machine” fused the synth rock of bands like Depeche Mode with the aggressive inhumanity of Industrial rock. It was my own gateway to other Industrial bands like Ministry and Nitzer Ebb and probably was for a host of other people. It sold very well for an independent release and was eventually certified triple platinum.

“Pretty hate machine” is to this day my very favourite Nine Inch Nails release, every song on it is a classic for me. It was difficult choosing just three picks to share with you but I have managed. Enjoy the throwback rage out today.

”Down in it”: “I was up above it. I was up above it. Now I’m down in it.” We’re never quite sure what ‘it’ was that Reznor was above and down in but we were right there with him. I was anyways. This was the first official single released by the band and was apparently the first song Reznor ever wrote. This might explain the simplistic lyrics and the adaptation and cooption of childhood nursery rhymes within. The song itself is quite dark though, explosive and rat-a-tat percussion and hiss boom rah rah samples, like a crowd roaring while Reznor alternates between rapping and rhyming and snarling. It’s all like a boiling pot of water or maybe even molten lava (if you want to delve into hyperbole) just at the edge, all threatening to break over the top into violence and disastrous mess.

”Something I can never have”: I loved this epic six minute ballad long before it was used to infamy on the “Natural Born Killers” soundtrack. The different levels of synth washes sounding like some abandoned, disused industrial plant, suddenly sprung into action and from somewhere deep within, lilts a lonely haunting piano riff, that varies and dances in on the wind and grows louder and quieter by chance and mood. “In this place it seems like such a shame, though it all looks different now, I know it’s still the same. Everywhere I look you’re all I see, just a fading f*cking reminder of who I used to be.” I definitely latched onto this song and its lyrics back in my self-deprecating and moping days as a teen and this particular lyric, with its uncompromising and unapologetic f-bomb, always got me going and singing along. Even now, with my backwards facing lense, I find this a beautiful and haunting track about the anger and longing of lost love.

”Head like a hole”: Looking at that still from the video below, I am reminded of my university friends Leigh and Aliya, who had that very image up on their shared residence bedroom wall, a poster purchased from an Imaginus fair. I watched that music video so many times, back in the day, constantly rewinding and replaying the video cassette tape I had it recorded on. Simply based on the fact that “Head like a hole” was track one on “Pretty hate machine” and I listened to the album in full as my introduction to Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, this song was my first exposure to and still my favourite track by this artist. The rage, the samples, the beat, the screaming. This was where my flirtation with industrial music began. I still remember this being played, at my request, at a CFNY video dance party at my high school and some teen girl, whose name I can’t recall, being incredulous that this was the type of music to which I would listen. I didn’t care at all at the time. I was too busy dancing my ass off.

Check back next Monday for album #1. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”
9. Galaxie 500 “On fire”
8. The Beautiful South  “Welcome to The Beautiful South”
7. The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”
6. New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Hup”
4. Pixies “Doolittle”
3. The Cure “Disintegration”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Playlist: Be my valentine

Okay. So here’s something that’s never been done before, at least not on this blog, or really, during any of my years of blogging. It’s true. I have never done a post observing this somewhat suspect ‘holiday’, a day that has been over-commercialized and become more about selling chocolates and flowers and overpriced dinners than spending time with the one you love. Still, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I do have a sappy side, a side that gets totally wrapped up in rom-coms and even the odd Hallmark Christmas film. And yeah, my wife and I typically do observe February 14th, usually in our own quiet way, but the odd time we have gone out for a nice dinner and paid exorbitant prices for roses.

It just so happened a few weeks ago that I realized I was due for a new playlist and the idea occurred to me to create one of ‘love songs’. Then, I quelled the idea, remembering the struggle Victoria and I had looking for appropriate songs in my collection that we could dance to on our wedding day. “Do none of your bands write songs about love?” she asked, frustrated and tired at one point during our search. Apparently not, was the answer, at least not in the conventional sense, the sense in which hair bands managed it in the 80s and out of which some R&B singers have made a career. Often the alternative and indie bands to whom I listen wrote beautiful lyrics that touched on love but did so looking at it not as a pure thing but one to be feared and revered, a bringer of both pain and joy. In short, not your typical love songs.

In the end, we found a handful to use, of which a few of them can be found in the playlist below. Of course, I had Victoria in mind while putting this one together, though I know she wouldn’t appreciate many of the tracks, still, there’s a little something for everyone. I’ve got some iconic tunes by influential alt-rock bands like The Cure and The Smiths, lesser known acts from the 90s like The Lowest of the Low and My Drug Hell, and of course, highlights from the indie kids of this new century, like Bloc Party and The Decemberists. I’ve got the whole list below, in case the Spotify doesn’t work for you, and included a lyrical gem from each song, just to give a glimpse of what you can be listening for as you peruse the list.

1. The Cure “Lovesong”
“Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am whole again.”

2. Elbow “An audience with the pope”
“I have an audience with the Pope, and I’m saving the world at eight, but if she says she needs me, she says she needs me, everybody’s gonna have to wait.”

3. Blur “To the end”
“You and I collapsed in love. And it looks like we might have made it.”

4. The Rural Alberta Advantage “In the summertime”
“Once in a while, I know our hearts beat out of time. And once in a while, I know they’ll fall back in line.”

5. Teenage Fanclub “What you do to me”
“There’s something about you, got me down on my knees.”

6. The Cranberries “Dreams”
“Now I tell you openly, you have my heart so don’t hurt me. You’re what I couldn’t find, totally amazing mind, so understanding and so kind, you’re everything to me.”

7. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
“I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.”

8. Coldplay “Yellow”
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.”

9. Depeche Mode “One caress”
“Just one caress from you and I’m blessed.”

10. James “Just like Fred Astaire”
“Meteors may strike the earth. Nations live and die. I’m the boy who got the girl who showed me how to fly.”

11. The Beautiful South “Song for whoever”
“I love you from the bottom of my pencil case. I love you in the songs I write and sing.”

12. Death Cab For Cutie “I will follow you into the dark”
“Love of mine, someday you will die, but I’ll be close behind, and I’ll follow you into the dark. No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white, just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark.”

13. Oasis “Wonderwall”
“I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.”

14. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Do you love me?”
“I knew from that moment on that I’d love her till the day that I died.”

15. The Lowest of the Low “Subversives”
“There’s something subversive about you and me, ’cause there’s a market-value on love and we’re getting something for free.”

16. The Smiths “There is a light that never goes out”
“And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”

17. The Lemonheads “Alison’s starting to happen”
“I never looked at her this way before, but now she’s all I see.”

18. Bloc Party “This modern love”
“Do you want to come over and kill some time? Throw your arms around me.”

19. The Verve “Sonnet”
“Yes, there’s love if you want it, don’t sound like no sonnet, my lord.”

20. Chairlift “Bruises”
“I tried to do handstands for you, but every time I fell for you. I’m permanently black and blue, permanently blue for you.”

21. The Decemberists “We both go down together”
“And my parents will never consent to this love. But I hold your hand.”

22. Black Box Recorder “Andrew Ridgley”
“I came alive to the smouldering fire in your eyes. I love you now and I will ’til the day that I die.”

23. The Stone Roses “Ten storey love song”
“When your heart is black and broken and you need a helping hand. When you’re so much in love, you don’t know just how much you can stand.”

24. First Aid Kit “Emmylou”
“I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June, if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too. No, I’m not asking much of you, just sing little darling, sing with me.”

25. Björk “Violently happy”
“Since I met you, this small town hasn’t got room for my big feelings. Violently happy, ’cause I love you.”

26. Longpigs “On and on”
“All the songs that I’ve sung you, more often than you know. You’re the love that I’ve clung to more often than I’ve let it show.”

27. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros “Home”
“Ah, home, let me come home, home is wherever I’m with you.”

28. My Drug Hell “Girl at the bus stop”
“Girl at the bus stop, I wished for once that the bus would never come. She sat downstairs, I sat behind I couldn’t get her off my mind.”

29. Pulp “Babies”
“Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah.”

30. Nine Inch Nails “Closer”
“I want to f*ck you. I want to taste you. I want to feel you.”

Enjoy. Happy (Saint) Valentine’s Day.

And of course, I’d be up for hearing what your own favourite ‘love’ songs are from the alternative and indie rock realms.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.