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Nine Inch Nails - Broken CD (album) cover

BROKEN

Nine Inch Nails

 

Crossover Prog

3.33 | 35 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars After instigating some serious ripples in the stagnant waters of the rock music scene late in 1989 with his stunning "Pretty Hate Machine" album, Trent Reznor realized that he now had to deal with the peripherals that came with wave-making. Some were positive, some not so much. Putting together an impressive touring Nine Inch Nails ensemble and shocking audiences the world over with their raucous, in-your-face stage presence, thereby frightening parents into banning them from their teens' Walkmans (being tagged as taboo = a marketing mother lode), were part of the rich harvest gleaned from that debut's success. The bad stuff arose from the ever-present business side of the equation that only cared about one thing, the "God Money" that Trent had so vehemently railed against in "Head like a Hole." The band's label, TVT, started pressuring Reznor to quickly produce a follow up CD in order to seize the fleeting moment. When he didn't respond as instructed, their battery of lawyers started waving legal papers in his mug, threatening to freeze his artistic assets. As one would expect, things got nasty in a hurry, forcing Trent to record in secret until Interscope Records intervened, bought out his contract (without his approval, I might add) and gave him free reign to come out of hiding and create at will. In September of '92 Nine Inch Nails finally resurfaced with "Broken" and the fans responded enthusiastically.

Not known as being a particularly tolerant or longsuffering fellow, Reznor's musical and lyrical tone reflected his reinforced disdain for capitalistic greed merchants and the conceited bullying tactics they employed in order to keep their indentured servants in line. While the songs on the former disc certainly didn't display any signs of restraint when it came to ranting against corporate tyranny and the horrendous things that people do to each other in the name of love, the tunes on "Broken" zeroed in on being Trent's vehicle to vent his outrage over the injustices of "the system" and showcased the paranoid virus its cruel manipulations had infected him with. I also detect the influence of his realization that the live crowds he'd performed for demanded nothing less than being pulverized into submission by his music and that, as far as they were concerned, overkill was impossible for him to achieve. For these reasons the tracks are based more heavily on massive, metallic guitar assaults than they were on PHM, where the role synthesizers played in the overall ambience was more noticeable. It's noisy as hell, too.

"Pinion" is a very short intro to the album that brings to mind an ominous storm gathering and advancing from the far horizon. When "Wish" hits with its intense oom-pah beat grinding beneath a brash, distorted wall of guitars that stands in contrast to Reznor's relatively calmer but still anger-filled verses there's no mistaking who you're listening to. He spits out "Don't think you're having all the fun/you know me I hate everyone/wish there was something real/wish there was something true/wish there was something real/in this world full of you/I want to but I can't turn back/but I want to," and one gets a glimpse of the vile disease of distrust that's festering in his psyche. This song and the whole EP in general is more punkish than exploratory in attitude. "Last" is better. Its strong-as-an-ox metal approach is more accessible in its clarity and purpose. The tune utilizes different atmospheres to provide needed dynamics but it's subtle as a steel mill as Trent rails against the machine that's draining him bit by bit. "Still feel it all slipping away/but it doesn't matter anymore/everybody's still chipping away/but it doesn't matter anymore/look through these blackened eyes/you'll see ten thousand lies/my lips may promise but my heart is a whore," he screams. An instrumental, "Help Me I am in Hell," follows, consisting mainly of a strummed electric guitar that holds steady as suffocating synth noises build to a crescendo and then subside around it.

On the sarcastic "Happiness in Slavery" a harsh, pounding beat anchors this riff-driven tune in which Reznor snarls and slobbers, setting loose his pent up ire and disillusionment via lines like "I don't know what I am/I don't know where I've been/human junk just words and so much skin/stick my hands through the cage of this endless routine/just some flesh caught in this big broken machine." The electronically-generated percussion breakdown is suspenseful but it only offers a brief respite from Trent's exasperating primal yelps, strained whispers and atonal grunts. The ferocious "Gave Up" is next. A frantic, incredibly fast drum pattern props up Reznor's altered vocal at the onset and then a stupendously loud, assaulting chorus takes charge, tempered only by slightly less-boisterous verses and presenting little in the way of finesse. "After everything I've done/I hate myself for what I've become/I tried/I gave up/throw it away" he cries. I understand that this is art but at this point one starts to fear for his sanity. The EP ends with two covers. The first is Adam Ant's "Physical (You're So)" wherein a huge, throbbing pulse stalks below this Neanderthal love song that makes plain its core intent. "I want the touch of your charms/the heat of your breath/I wanna say all those things/that would be better unsaid," Reznor croons in his inimitable way. A version of Pigface's "Suck" is the curtain-closer. Its funk foundation in the verses gives way to sledgehammer slams that propel the battalion of guitars-fueled choruses. It drops into a turbo hum bridge for about a minute, then the army of axes crash back in as Trent bellows "A thousand lips/a thousand tongues/a thousand throats/a thousand lungs/a thousand ways to make it true/I want to do terrible things to you." (His new record company did well to heed this thinly-veiled threat and left him alone.) The track exits in a revival of the number's initial funky strut.

I regard "Broken" as a necessary stepping stone in his career that allowed Reznor to blow off some destructive steam that could've lessened the impact that "The Downward Spiral" would have a year and a half later. That album possessed an artistic identity and verve that might have been missing had Trent carried the blinding rage he exorcised on this disc into that project. Yet, as brittle and raw as "Broken" is, it still resonated with a large portion of the public that wanted something less retro and more challenging than what the grunge movement was presenting. The CD rose to #7 on the chart, went platinum in no time and garnered two Grammy awards so its appeal wasn't limited to NIN fans only. And, because the gritty, unnerving videos that accompanied several of these songs were designated as unfit for MTV, folks had to turn to the web to view them, thus loosening the unholy grip that mind-numbing network had on the populace and helping to finally bring the word progressive back into 20th century music's vocabulary. So there's a lot to appreciate about "Broken" but, as for me, I have to be in a very chapped and indignant mood to swim in its dangerous waters. Fortunately, that's not very often these days but it's good to know it's there if I need it.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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