During the production of Pretty Hate Machine, Trent Reznor was a janitor by day and rock star by night. By doing the bitch work around a recording studio in order to earn enough to survive, he was granted the opportunity to have complete artist freedom by night. This setup left little time for sleep, but that didn’t deter Trent from producing an album that truly embodies the basic identity of Nine Inch Nails.
This album was a ground-breaking masterpiece. He recorded every instrument and drum sample himself, which was fairly uncommon in that time. Electronics were just starting to break into the music scene with synthesizers and drum machines and Pretty Hate Machine was right on the pulse. By controlling every instrument himself and without a producer while recording, Trent was given the ultimate artistic freedom that many musicians wish for.
Once this album was sold to a record company, Trent re-recorded this album with producers that he idolized, including Mark “Flood” Ellis, whom has worked with the likes of Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, U2, and numerous other good musicians. Pretty Hate Machine was set up for successes and has achieved masterpiece status.
The first single from this album, 'Down In It', charted in the United States, right off the bat. It was associated with both alternative rock, but also dance club music, charting in both genres. This track includes a rock-rap style that does not surface again for the remainder of Nine Inch Nails’ history. While I would consider this rap-rockish, it is not done in a real rappy way, instead it is more like reading poetry during the versus, really nice. The sampling is really catchy along with an even catchier bridge, “I used to be so big and strong, I used to know my right from wrong, I used to never be afraid, I used to be somebody.” The lyrics in this song have really good imagery and I love listening to it!
The second single off this album is also the opening track 'Head Like A Hole'. With a super simple drum background, one can focus on the rebellious lyrics which embody Trent’s desire to be against “the man”, “God money’s not looking for the cure, god money’s not concerned about the sick among the pure, god money let’s go dancing on the backs of the bruised.” There is an obvious sense of political hostility within this song, but I think Trent’s singing and attitude is really sexy, especially want he says “God money ill do anything for you, god money just tell me what you want me to, God money nail me up against the wall.” Sounds like he really wants me ;). (Noooo ~Eddie)
Something I Can Never have stands out on this album. It was recorded with quiet piano and industrial machine sounding beats half way through. This has been covered by many musicians, including Flyleaf who released their cover on an album. Instead of being an upbeat, catchy tune, this track is pure emotion. Trent was not overly concerned about singing every note perfectly or impressing his audience, instead he focused on communicating the emotions of missing someone who has left because of his own mistakes. The lyrics in this song are beautiful, “I can still recall the taste of your tears, echoing, your voice just like the ringing in my ears, my favourite dreams of you still wash ashore, scraping through my head till I don’t want to sleep anymore.” The way Trent says the lyrics along with low droning synth sounds below the soft piano melody leaves the listener trapped in a world that Trent has created. This song creates a captivating atmosphere that draws the audience into his story.
The Only Time is a really fun song. Accompanied by funky bass riffs, Trent sings his lyrics super sexily with his gorgeous phrasing of “I’m drunk, but right now I’m so in love with you, and I don’t want to think too much about what we should and shouldn’t do.” This track does an awesome job of breaking up songs that include a lot of hurt feelings and intense emotion.
The closing song, 'Ringfinger' is a work of simplicity, singing of desperation to please an woman who is unimpressed with Trent’s attempts to woo her, “well you’ve got me working so hard baby, working my hands until they bleed, if I was twice the man I could be id still be half of what you need.” I love the biblical references within this song, stating that she just leaves him nailed there, like Jesus on a cross. It adds dimension and accurately portrays his sadness. Poor Trent. This was a good closer to the album and leaves the listener wanting more.
Along with the 2010 re-master and rerelease of Pretty Hate Machine came a new cover song that was included. Nine Inch Nails did a cover of 'Get Down, Make Love' originally done by Queen. While this was obviously recorded at a different time than the rest of the songs because of the major difference in synth sounds, it is fun for listeners to enjoy. The song opens with a man asking a girl about her first time, then a bunch of women start moaning? Haha this is certainly eccentric. With vocal distortion and a funky beat, Trent has recreated the Queen song completely. Instead of being bassy and simple, as Queen had made it, Trent shaped this song into a dirty sounding, heavy, and sexy work of art. While this may not be the cup of tea of many Queen fans, those who enjoy other works by Nine Inch Nails or grungy music are sure to enjoy this. If you want to listen to the Nine Inch Nails’ interpretation of get down make love.
By incorporating simple industrial beats and melodies under each song on Pretty Hate Machine, Trent has been able to convey emotions and create volatile environments within his music that is hard to do with decorated pop music. Pretty Hate Machine is not just a commercial successful album (selling 3x platinum in the US alone) but it is also a work of art. The deep self-expression that Trent achieves allows this album to have the full effect on the listener, which Trent intended.