The Downward Spiral Island

By ANDREW PERRY for Select Magazine on April 1, 1994

"Need you/Dream you/Find you/Taste you/Fuck you/Use you/Scar you/Break you/Lose me/Hate me/Smash me/Erase me/Kill me.' These, the complete lyrics to 'Eraser', aptly summarise what 'The Downward Spiral' is all about. Alarming enough, even if Nine Inch Nails second full LP weren't guaranteed to go straight into the Top Five. After the post-apocalyptic (but MTV-friendly) grunge of 'Head Like A Hole' (91) and touring with Guns n' Roses, Nail-in-chief Trent Reznor is the marketable face of industrial horrorcore, the guru of all the depraved instincts and pervy practices that rock, and society in general, refuse to acknowledge.

The debut Nails LP, 'Pretty Hate Machine' (89), offered no ever-present visceral menace, more a straightforward marriage of Depeche Mode sobriety and industrial pioneer Foetus, who turned up on the remixes of 92's 'Broken' mini LP. 'Fixed' was a jolly misnomer for those mortally pummelling tune-free noisescapes. More like 'Fucked'. And this is the sound, with odd moments of soft, pseudo-melodic respite, that Trent has gone for on his commercial watershed LP.

If a track like 'I Do Not Want This' opens with a gently wasted vocal, the quiet tinklings of a piano and the muffled staccato thumping of a beatbox, it's only to provide a heavy-handed contrast with the hailstorm ahead-guitars flying at you like unmanned chainsaws, Trent screaming "I want to fuck everyone in the world"...It's not just any old power balled, to be sure, but there is a sense in which, however well made, this is just any old industrial LP-a load of atonal noise unbound by all constraints of listenability, danceability or (since Trent's no Al Jourgensen) amusement. You couldn't recommend this to anyone unless they wanted an unpleasant soundtrack for their own suicide. In other words, you can't recommend it.

'The Downward Spiral' is vilely negative. To recap on 'Eraser', you desire someone, anyone. Finally, you meet them and have sex, and that's where it all goes wrong. Sex per se is exploitative, becomes hateful and violent, which leads to self-hatred and an appetite for self-destruction. Ergo heroin abuse plus accompanying psychoses. Of course. From there, there's only one way out. On the pathetically blurred title track, a character marvels at the simplicity of how he's just blown his own head off. Marvellous. Glad you were there?

It's the kind of sad, 2-D take on life you'd expect from and early-adolescent goth. Unlike, say, Polly Harvey's vision of pain, it's not humane. It's not mad. It's just stupid. It's also pretty misguided to think that a rock lyric that goes "your God is dead and no one cares" (Heresy) will really shock the world in this day and age.

Glamourising the house in Death Valley where Roman Polanski's wife Sharon Tate was hideously stabbed to death by the Manson Family (recording there; with 'Piggy', invoking The Beatles song title they daubed on the walls in her blood)-that's not too clever either. It certainly doesn't make 'The Downward Spiral' as good as the 'White Album'. Unlike life the whole thing's pointless.


Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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