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.