When I wrote about Hallucination Engine by Material I alluded to two albums on this list being purchased solely on the strength of a review. Nine Inch Nails‘ debut, Pretty Hate Machine is the other, and it was love at first listen.
The first few seconds of “Head Like a Hole” grabbed me, sort of like Depeche Mode‘s Black Celebration had a few rough years and bought a few Skinny Puppy albums.
“Terrible Lie” confirmed it – Reznor had taken synth pop, industrial, and all the angst ever and rolled it into something all his own. While there’s some elements to “pure” industrial music that I quite like, it often devolves into noise. I enjoy harder music, but it has to still have some decent songwriting to prop it up, and NIN has it in spades.
“Down In It” is a perfect example. Granted, it sounds a bit tame by today’s standards, but it was pretty hard for 1989. And yet… it’s still accessible, enjoyable, and kind of catchy.
I love the slow burn on “Sanctified” punctuated with brief shrieks of guitar and static. The interlude with sampled chants still wows me as well. If this approach wasn’t entirely novel to NIN, it was certainly new to me.
“Something I Can Never Have” is a little unexpected after the first few tracks on the album. Slow… piano? OK, it’s a bit haunted and there’s a little bit of ominous chords in the background, but, it’s almost starting off like a ballad. While it gets more and more intense, the tempo never varies. But I dig it.
Really, every single cut on this album still resonates with me today – more than 25 years later.
I’m not sure when I picked up the album (on cassette, though I’m not sure if I went with cassette because it was cheaper or because I couldn’t find it on CD), but it was somewhere between the October 1989 release date and seeing the band on their first headlining national tour. It was enough time for me to be entirely obsessed with NIN and grab tickets to see them at the tiny 1227 Nightclub. (Now, sadly, defunct.)
Live, everything on Pretty Hate Machine was taken up a notch, even more aggressive and much looser. Being just a few yards from the chaos was incredible. I can’t find any pics from that specific show, but here’s a video from the same tour – just imagine a much smaller venue.
And another from just a few days after St. Louis, this time in Texas.
Pretty Hate Machine isn’t my favorite NIN record, but it was another album that opened entirely new doors for me musically. I’m not sure it’d have the same impact today on someone who had never heard Pretty Hate Machine before, but if it’s new to you I strongly recommend checking it out! If nothing else, you’ll see one of the major influences on music to come.