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Nine Inch Nails - Head Like a Hole CD (album) cover


Nine Inch Nails

Crossover Prog

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3 stars Unless you're the type that occasionally sports a moon tan you'd best steer clear of this.

When I was still in high school in the late 60s I caught the studio bug big time. The band I was with had landed a contract with a local recording studio and we were encouraged to indulge freely in the company's facilities to see what we could come up with. Their hope was that our plucky combo would manufacture a chart-topping single that would make them rich. Unfortunately we were but a well-intentioned collection of enthusiastic neophytes harboring limited talent and we never came close to grasping even the basic concept of laying down a solid track. Yet I was enchanted by the sacred aura of the studio environ with its booms, baffles, levers, red & amber lights, fancy tape machines and such. The head engineer/producer at Studio VII was an affable guy named Ron. He couldn't help but notice my wide-eyed fascination with the whole hullabaloo so he generously took me under his wing and allowed me sit in on his sessions with the other groups. For the rest of my life I never felt more comfortable than when I was working in the studio. However, not every musician shared that attitude. In fact, few were genuinely pleased about the prospect of spending 18 hours straight cooped up indoors but for me time ceased to exist during that span. I was in my element and I had no other needs. I found it funny when one of my girlfriends who benignly imagined the process of recording to be "glamorous" would beg to go to a session and then, after sitting through 120 dull minutes of getting the necessary drum sound from the left tom-tom, would plead for me to take her home. It takes an undoubtedly obsessive yet patient countenance to willingly submit oneself to that tedious process and it's obvious that Trent Reznor aka Nine Inch Nails is infected with that affliction.

What I'm trying to say is that this EP can get redundant in a hurry unless you're like me and find this type of aural masochism invigorating. There are basically three songs but ten cuts. Trent experimented with approaching the tunes from different angles and, while I don't claim to listen to it on a regular basis, I'm always intrigued by the subtle variations he employed in his quest to achieve the ever-elusive "perfect" mix. I bought this on a whim because I liked "Head Like a Hole" but wasn't sure I wanted to spring for the whole "Pretty Hate Machine" album and because it was cheap. I will say this, though. I don't have another CD like it. It's a true oddity in my collection of prog music.

There are five separate versions of "Head Like a Hole" offered with each one bearing a subjective tag to tell them apart. The opening salvo is "Slate" and it's the closest he veers toward a demons-on-Ecstasy dance mix with a busy synth bass line that carries you through a strobe-lit, Beelzebub's Disco section. "Clay" is my favorite with its crawling, ominous undercurrent and the eerie whoops at the end. "Copper" possesses a more intricate rhythmic beginning, an alternate bass line, a strong breakdown during the chorus and an abrupt changeover to a weird shuffle beat in the finale. "Soil" has a more techno slant to it and is very sparse musically, almost to the point of being austere as Reznor opts to let his voice be the sole source of music for the majority of the time. What all four of these have in common is an angry, defiant lyrical content. He sings of the siren-like but corrupting lure of the whistling false deity known as God Money and his determination not to prostrate himself before it. I sense that he's screaming at the greedy, gluttonous record company execs when he vows that he'd "rather die than give you control" while spitting on their handfuls of cash. "You Know Who You Are" is mostly instrumental and sounds like a whimsical outtake spawned from the other HLAH mixes. It conjures an image in my head of a wild, tribal gathering 'round a blazing bonfire attended by thousands of renegade microchips.

There are two takes of "Terrible Lie," one dubbed "Sympathetic" and the other "Empathetic." The former employs strange noises as unique percussion instruments, stirring dynamics and a cold ending in which Trent intones a defeated "there's nothing left and then you die." The latter isn't a whole lot different except he lets dense synthesizers emerge from the horizon like dark thunderheads during the middle section. The blatant prevarication that Reznor efficiently rails against in this tune is the deception foisted upon mankind by the author of confusion that the world and its steady stream of material things and pseudo-intellectualism can satisfy one's soul completely. Ain't so, Joe.

Next NIN tosses in three distinct versions of "Down In It." This song has as its foundation a loping groove that cruises beneath Trent's gothic, pasty white boy hip-hop delivery of the rhyming verses. But it's the haunting, echoed chant of what brings to mind a sample of collective madness culled from a tyrant-led military rally that distinguishes this composition. It's extremely cool how Reznor manipulates that powerful effect throughout the choruses. As he did earlier, he assigns a different moniker to each mix. "Shred" features his anguished, tortured voice streaming atop the cruel ridicule of a schoolyard taunt as he shouts "I used to be somebody!" "Singe" is more along the lines of "You Know Who You Are" in that the normal structure is dropped in lieu of developing what can be called a wordless, mechanical mantra. "Demo" is a stripped-down reading of the lyrics to pounding drums and electric impulses. The coda is a four-second snippet of some clueless, air-headed female MTV host (or equivalent thereof) who gleefully chirps "let's hear it for Nine Inch Nails! They were good! Wooo!" It's so absurd as to be hilarious.

Only those who find attractive a pale, ashen hue gained from spending too many days in a row sequestered inside a windowless bunker filled only with devices intended to make and document music (and an unlimited number of noises) would deem this entertaining. Folks like yours truly, to be exact. It's an example of how music as artistic expression has no ultimate shape, form or restricting limitation. It can be added to and subtracted from endlessly. With this EP Nine Inch Nails demonstrates that amazing fact beyond dispute. 3.3 stars.

Report this review (#279848)
Posted Thursday, April 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
2 stars One thing that's interesting about this "single" is that it's about six minutes longer than the album it came from. Although it is labelled as a "maxi-single", it really isn't a single in the traditional sense. It is a disk of remixes of five of the tracks from Pretty Hate Machine.

Now I'm not a big fan of remixes in general (I once had a nightmarish experience - literally - of having a very bad flu about 20 years ago, and was so sick that I could barely get out of bed - I fell asleep with the radio set to a local college station - I kept waking up to a show where the DJ was freemixing The Romantics' Talking In Your Sleep, badly), and this is no exception. Not one of the remixes is as good as the original versions of the songs.

The only real reason to own this disk is the bare bones demo of Down In It.

Report this review (#296089)
Posted Wednesday, August 25, 2010 | Review Permalink

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