This piece originally ran October 17, 2013 to preview Nine Inch Nails at the Verizon Center. NIN plays Jiffy Lube Live tonight with Soundgarden.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. The handyman/janitor/one-man band that made loud, abrasives noises in the 80s in Ohio should have stayed in Ohio. Trent Reznor didn’t stay in the Midwest. He packed up his synths, made big noises on Lollapalooza 1991 and never looked back. Sort of. He looked back a lot, but didn’t reminisce.
For the last 25 years Nine Inch Nails has moved forward. It’s the main reason Reznor and whoever else is in Nine Inch Nails has remained relevant. Whether it was taking the industrial music to a very non-industrial crowd on the festival circuit, releasing remix albums for each studio LP, embracing high end video production or foregoing the entire music industry, NIN is always one-step ahead of arena contemporaries.
So let’s take a look back at how Nine Inch Nails looked forward. If they didn’t evolve, the band that sang about death would have been dead long ago.
Ohio TV News Segment
Before he had NIN Trent Reznor was a member of Exotic Birds, a band that made, “unique electronic dance music.” The crux of the segment is: computer?!? Who would use a computer to make music? That’s crazy!
Lesson: A computer can be a musical instrument. Crazy.
“Down In It”
The lyrics to this industrial classic are bad. Very bad. Most lyrics on Pretty Hate Machine are bad. The music sounds dated. But the music video was so realistic the FBI thought it was a snuff film.
Lesson: Videos are important. If your video is important Hard Copy will devote a segment to it two years after its release.
It’s industrial music 101. If Marilyn Manson can play the guitar on the track, anyone can play on the track. If anyone can play the track, it might be simple enough for kids learning how to play guitar, especially kids that hate everything else and gravitate towards a song with the title, “Gave Up.”
Lesson: It’s possible to record in the Sharon Tate murder house and be considered an artist. Also, if you’re not ready to release a follow up LP, an EP is more than acceptable.
The video is iconic and it’s become the art direction for much less talented bands.
Lesson: Put a animal skull on a naked person and people will remember. Pistons as drum beats also keep a song in the listener’s head.
Lesson: Work with filmmakers. Sometimes they’ll deliver you a shiny gold statue.
It sounds horrible and it doesn’t matter. It’s an organized, muddy wreck. Everything is destroyed. Guitars are thrown without abandon. It may be what every 12-year old boy wants in a concert. It’s one of the main reasons Trent and Co. are able to continue selling-out arenas.
Everyone looks incredibly dated, except Trent. He just looks muddy.
Lesson: When playing to 100,000 people and a Pay-Per-View audience, get muddy and destroy things. People will remember.
Lesson: The drum breakdown that goes from 2:33 to 2:58 is what musicians should aspire to.
Johnny Cash “Hurt”
This song is no longer Reznor’s. He appears to know this. The song was on par with Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today” and Nirvana’s “All Apologies” before Cash took it on. Since he did, it’s become a poignant epitaph to a legend.
Lesson: Write songs good enough that legends will take them and you will be able to cash checks until you’re well into your 70s.
Once you’re done yelling about god or the lack-thereof, it’s time to yell about the other “Capital G.” After spending nearly 20-years focusing on the personal, Reznor worked on the political with this album/video game and potential future television show.
Lesson: If you keep the lyrics vague on a political record, it won’t sound so dumb when there’s a new administration in office.
Karen O, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross “Immigrant Song”
After winning an Academy Award for their work on The Social Network, Reznor and Ross returned to film with a Zeppelin cover because why not?
Lesson: Recognize talent. YYY’s are dramatically different than NIN. They’re a three-person art-rock trio specializing in organic rock and roll. It doesn’t make sense on paper but fits for the song.
“Came Back Haunted”
Why not have David Lynch direct your comeback video? Why not play with minimalism? Why not remind people of Eraserhead? Why not cause a seizure? Why not keep quiet? 2013’s Hesitation Marks features Reznor not yelling. You don’t even notice it for the first few listens. Why not move forward?
Lesson: When you’re returning from a hiatus, bring along another artist who needs to return from a hiatus.
I’ve watched this multiple times. It looks and sounds like the culmination of 25-years of songwriting and performance. The performance opens with 2013’s “Copy Of A” and transitions seamlessly into “Sanctified” from 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine. Most bands can not do this. Since NIN isn’t like most bands, it works. The set isn’t full of nostalgia, instead it’s a big budget theater piece.