Nine Inch Nails' Origins:
Nine Inch Nails is the moniker used by songwriter and producer Trent Reznor. Incorporating elements of postpunk, hard rock, electronica and industrial, Nine Inch Nails albums are conceived and performed largely by Reznor with the occasional producer or musician assisting him in the process. Reznor started recording under the name Nine Inch Nails in 1988 when he was living in Cleveland, Ohio, focusing on danceable rock that emphasized the alienation and hypocrisy of modern life.
A Marriage of Industrial and New Wave:
In 1989, Reznor released his first album as Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine
. Drawing inspiration from industrial rock acts like Ministry but also moody modern rock artists such as Depeche Mode
, Pretty Hate Machine
offered a rough draft of NIN’s modus operandi. On “Head Like a Hole,” the album’s biggest single, Reznor demonstrated his skill at marrying a defiantly antiauthority rant to an engaging keyboard-driven track. Pretty Hate Machine
most clearly revealed Reznor’s love of ‘80s new wave, an influence that would remain on later albums but would never be as prominent as it was here.
Trent Reznor Dives Into the Darkness:
After the 1993 EP Broken
, Reznor returned with his second full-length album a year later. The Downward Spiral
built on Pretty Hate Machine
’s misanthropy, but its fearless exploration of Reznor’s inner darkness was almost as bracing as its jagged, harrowing tracks. The Downward Spiral
dealt frankly with suicide, sexual perversion, religion and addiction. Nine Inch Nails were more popular with modern rock fans than with mainstream audiences, but Reznor started making major inroads with that audience on The Downward Spiral
, partly thanks to the hallucinatory dance track “Closer.”
Nine Inch Nails Get Ambitious:
Nine Inch Nails would not release another studio album until 1999. The Fragile, an ambitious double album, proved to be less commercial than The Downward Spiral as its icy songs mostly eschewed straightforward pop structures. Though less depraved thematically than its predecessor, The Fragile was a deeply troubling look at hopelessness, its 100 minutes of desperate despair solidifying Reznor’s bleak worldview. Despite selling half as many copies as The Downward Spiral, the album continued mainstream audiences’ embrace of his poisonous lyrics and intimidating hard rock, eventually going double platinum.
A Turn Toward the Political:
Another six years would pass before Reznor’s next studio effort, although as before he would satiate hardcore fans’ appetite with remix albums in between official releases. At first, 2005’s With Teeth seemed like a more conventional album after the The Fragile's length and The Downward Spiral's darkness. Focusing on more straightforward rock arrangements, With Teeth may not have possessed the layered complexity of previous efforts, but Reznor compensated with overtly political lyrics, decrying Americans’ fear of criticizing the Bush administration on the hit single “The Hand That Feeds.”
Trent Reznor Cuts Ties With the Record Industry:
Where many of his contemporaries have lost steam creatively in the 21st century, Reznor appeared to be reenergized as his contract with Interscope Records reached its end in 2007. That year, he released Year Zero, a nervy concept record about a government-run future society with obvious parallels to post-9/11 America. Critically and commercially, the record was largely overlooked, despite the fact that it was one of his strongest efforts, an album that combined the ambition of The Fragile with the mainstream sensibilities of With Teeth.
His Own Man at Last:
A year later, Reznor announced that he was cutting ties with Interscope and distributing his music independently. Proving true to his word, he released Ghosts I-IV
, a collection of instrumentals, through his website. Less than two months later, Reznor surprised the world by offering his next studio album, The Slip
, as a free download. The Slip
didn’t have the same political overtones of Year Zero
, but it represented another compelling chapter in Reznor’s candid ongoing examination of his angst and insecurities.
The Farewell Tour:
In February 2009, Trent Reznor began hinting that he would retire
the Nine Inch Nails brand. Following through with his promise, he organized a two-week, 10-show tour
that would represent the band’s final American tour. The farewell concerts kick off August 22 in New York and end September 6 in Los Angeles.
Essential Nine Inch Nails Album:
The Downward Spiral
Hardly a "fun" album, The Downward Spiral
is one of the greatest examples of a record that's startling and powerful despite how despairing it sounds. Mixing atmospheric instrumentals like “A Warm Place” with horrifying tales of the male ego run wild (such as on “Big Man With a Gun”), the album tries to find a few scraps of daylight amidst its collection of perpetual gloom.
Pretty Hate Machine
The Downward Spiral
Further Down the Spiral
Things Falling Apart
And All That Could Have Been
(live album) (2002)