Analog Adventures: Pretty Hate Machine

Nine Inch Nails

Pretty Hate Machine

(1989)

About the Artist

Trent Reznor is a commanding presence in the music industry. Reznor’s talents were noticed early in his life by his family, calling him “gifted”. Having played in several cover bands prior to Nine Inch Nails, his career truly kicked off in Cleveland, Ohio when he took a job at Right Track Studio. This is where he became familiar with audio engineering while performing janitorial duties. Reznor took advantage of unused studio time to record demos of what would become Pretty Hate Machine. Capturing the angst and aggression integral to his music became a solo endeavor due to musicians not living up to his standards. Impressively recorded entirely by himself, this DIY attitude carried throughout his career.

The Record Itself

Pretty Hate Machine takes cues from Kraftwerk, Joy Division, and early hip-hop regarding aesthetics and timbre. Head Like a Hole kicks off the album with a hypnotic, almost tribal, chant of the prechorus. The deep and grimy bass line coalesce with the pulsating drums. A collection of different vocal samples drives the verses and prechorus until the guitar takes over. This song is quintessential industrial music with an almost paranoid feeling and gritty atmosphere that surrounding it.

“But the needle’s already in my eye, and all the world’s weight is on my back and I don’t even know why.” – Nine Inch Nails, Down In It.

Down In It has moments of a pseudo rap delivery style from Reznor. The song is accompanied by a rare major key along with robotic drum samples. Themes of betrayal and angst drip through the electronic beats. Each track is as haunting and danceable as the previous one, leading to a tonally consistent album. The grouping of cold digital instruments and warm analog recording hardware results in a sum greater than its parts.

Physically Speaking

Segues between songs are seamless. The end of Head Like a Hole and beginning of Terrible Lie are perfectly sequenced. This effect is particularly strong playing back on a turntable due to the continuous spinning of the music. The medium fits the message like a glove. The record weighs in at a healthy 140 grams and the soft neon cover art focuses the attention on the content of the album itself. This is not to say that the art is insignificant; the art reflects the music itself. A digitally manipulated microphone with an almost insect like quality to it.

The back cover and inner sleeve of the record.

Is it Worth It?

Industrial rock is a hybrid genre that combines several seemingly conflicting genres of music and makes them work together. While The Downward Spiral may be Nine Inch Nails’ crowning achievement and a benchmark for the rest of the genre, Pretty Hate Machine is the foundation it is built upon. Recognizing where something begins is crucial to understanding and appreciation. Pretty Hate Machine is a landmark album that is worth adding to any collection.

Outstanding Tracks

  • Head Like a Hole
  • Down In It
  • Something I Can Never Have
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Jose Diaz

Collector of analog media.

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