Eight shades of Nine
By n/a for Lexington Herald Leader on February 24, 2006
Here are eight moments that rocked the world of Nine Inch Nails and established it as one of the most influential musical forces of the past two decades.
1989: NIN releases its debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. It's tagged in many reviews as a metal/electronica-inspired industrial band; Trent Reznor takes exception in an Axcess magazine interview: "We have very little to do with it (industrial music) other than there is noise in my music and there is noise in theirs."
1992: The EP disc Broken reaches more mainstream ears. NIN earns a Grammy for the song Wish. And a series of sometimes provocative, sometimes disturbing videos widen Reznor's appeal with MTV audiences.
1994: NIN's breakthrough album, The Downward Spiral, is released. A quadruple-platinum-selling work, Spiral luxuriates in layers of guitar mayhem (some supplied by Kentucky native Adrian Belew), synthesized beats and grim, sexually charged themes. The song Closer becomes the album's defining hit, though few radio stations are brave enough to play it even in edited form.
1995: NIN tours with David Bowie, whose then-current album Outside bears a dense, Brian Eno-produced sound that strongly echoes Reznor's music. During the two-month tour, NIN performs its own set but also serves as Bowie's band. A highlight: a duet between Reznor and Bowie of The Downward Spiral's drug addiction memoir Hurt.
1999: The two-disc album The Fragile widens the musical and lyrical scope of NIN's music. Lyrically, it takes jabs at former Reznor protg Marilyn Manson and former paramour Courtney Love. But the gloom is positively global during Somewhat Damaged, Ripe (With Decay) and the hit The Day the World Went Away. Though many reviews see the work as excessive and indulgent, the album's sonic variety is as deep and ferocious as its temperament.
2002: The live album And All That Could Have Been is released to offer a potent immediacy for songs so laboriously crafted in a studio environment. Head Like a Hole vibrates with introductory grooves that border on world-beat music, while The Great Below opens into earnest electronic ambience. The album serves as the primary live link between NIN's 2000 tour and its return to the stage in 2005.
2003: Country music icon Johnny Cash dies, leaving as one of his final works a stunning cover of Hurt and an equally emotive video of the song directed by onetime NIN collaborator Mark Romanek. Of Cash's interpretation, Reznor told Anthony DeCurtis: "When I write a song, I'm only considering myself as the one narrating it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would write a song that Johnny Cash wanted to sing. I never thought our paths would intersect. ... I haven't listened to my own version since then. I've been so proud of what they've done that I haven't thought much about it."
2005: A new album, With Teeth, brings Reznor out of seclusion. It is rumored to have had Bleedthrough as a working title. Recorded after battles with alcohol and substance abuse, With Teeth bears an icier, sleeker sound even though its lyrical scope flirts with a sort of artistic mortality that's in keeping with the outsider stance Reznor has long maintained in his songs. While The Hand That Feeds sets anti-war accents to deep-freeze dance-floor beats, Sunspots better reveals underlying angst: "I have nothing to say," Reznor shouts. "It's all been taken away." Like The Fragile five years earlier, With Teeth quickly, but briefly, tops the Billboard album charts.