Further Down The Spiral

By Howard Shih for Smug Magazine on January 1, 1996

Nine Inch Nails
Further Down The Spiral
Nothing/Interscope/TVT (domestic)
Nothing/Island/TVT (import)

Who is the real Trent Reznor? If you were to judge the man by the accessibility of his releases then you'd probably conclude that he's pretty schitzo. First, you have the nice poppy side to Trent that releases accessible pop masterpieces like the infectious dance hit, "Closer", or the woe-is-me ballad "Hurt". Then there's the artsy-hardcore part of Trent that releases beautifully vicious remix projects like 1992's Fixed EP, last summer's Closer to God, and the brand new Further Down The Spiral. The songs on those EPs were so radically altered by the likes of Coil and Jim Thirlwell (aka Foetus) that your little sister, who delighted in singing the "Fuck you like an animal" chorus of "Closer", would probably return the disc or trade it 'cause it's "not catchy enough." Either that or she'd think that her CD player is fucked up.

So why the contradiction? Why does he bother to trying to maintain his 'industrial' credibility while 'selling-out' at the same time? It would be nice to have Trent only releasing stuff like Fixed, so you wouldn't have to deal with frat-boys cranking "Wish" and acting like they're 'alternative', but I get the feeling that Trent likes fucking with both sides of the musical spectrum. Besides, contradiction lies in the heart of Reznor's music. What Reznor is doing with Nine Inch Nails is playing testosterone laden, macho music that screams "I'm a total fuck-up" in the same way that The Who did when they smashed their way through Quadrophenia. If the message behind Reznor's songs was "Chicks love me, I rule, etc." then they would become unbearable. It's the tension between the lyrics and the music that makes Nine Inch Nails work. And that's the ultimate reason for a release like Further Down The Spiral. The music.

On this very long EP (The US version clocks in at 64:01 & the import is 60:27), Reznor has previous NIN remix alumni do their thing along with a couple of newcomers. Industrial godfather, Jim Thirlwell, takes "Mr. Self-Destruct" and 'foetusizes' it into three different mixes of "Self Destruction." The remixes play down the crashing chords of the original song and emphasize the Arabesque guitar noodlings that are buried in the original mix. New to the NIN remix crew is veteran producer, Rick Rubin, who replaces the real drums on "Piggy" with a beat box that varies between a steady dance beat and a chaotic, amphetamine fueled drum break. In addition to changing the songs tempo, Rubin adds the power-chording of ex- Jane's Addiction guitarist, Dave Navarro, which gives "Piggy" a more confident feel as opposed to the despondent aura in Reznor's original version. NIN's newest member, Charlie Clouser, provides two dancy remixes, "Heresy" and "Ruiner", that are available only on the import version of the EP. Clouser's "Heresy" has a great sample ("Do you believe in miracles?" "Not really.") and is catchy enough to be the next NIN song to infect mainstream radio. Maybe that's why Trent kept it on the import. If Clouser's "Heresy" is NIN a it's most accessible then Coil's remixes of "Eraser" and "The Downward Spiral" are NIN at their most experimental. You won't find any catchy hooks or beats on these remixes or on NIN's own remix of "Mr. Self Destruct." Techno/Ambient god, Richard James (aka Aphex Twin), is Coil's aesthetic counterpart on the EP. James's "At The Heart Of It All" is a mini-symphony of original noises and sounds taken from The Downward Spiral. The piece aptly sums up the feel of Reznor's music; somber horns blow a notes of despair over the slow beating of a cold mechanical heart. Z100 wouldn't play this in a million years.

So which version should you get? If you liked Fixed more than Pretty Hate Machine then get the US version. If you want something dancier then get the import but you've gotta act quickly. Supposedly, the import was discontinued because the samples in "Heresy" were unauthorized. (Although Compact Disc world has a ton of 'em.) If you only like "Head Like A Hole", "Closer", or "Hurt" then stay the fuck away from either versions. The music on Further Down The Spiral demonstrates that great things can happen when an artist puts his, or her, music in the hands of others.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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