So i’ve purposely not talked about nin too much because of my never ending love of this band. But today we’ll be adding another record to the “Albums of My Life” series with Nine Inch Nails massive breakthrough record, 1994’s “The Downward Spiral.” Enjoy!
The first thing you hear on this increasingly violent record is taken from the sci-fi cult movie “THX-1138” but from then on you're treated to aggressive industrial rock that didn’t really fit in with the current state of music at the time. The song is a perfect start for the story of a man meeting his end and falling out of control, and all the touches here only add to the already high level of tension that permeates all of “TDS.” This record tells the story of a man propelling to his demise, but it also propelled Reznor and company to the top of the pile during the early to mid 90’s, and even for a record that's now legally allowed to drink, you can still hear what made it such a promising, strong minded album.
Many of these songs have since become staples, and again it’s not surprising. “Piggy,” follows up “Mr. Self Destruct,” but it changes course in terms of style and intensity. Musically it’s slower in tempo, but the lyrics are just as dark as anything Reznor faces on the rest of the album. Frankly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the studio version, but as a piece of a narrative it fits in exceedingly well. Songs three to five though are where you really start the see the desperation and darkness surrounding our main narrator. “Heresy” has some of the most anti religious lyrics Reznor has ever put to tape, and after you’re done belting out “Your God is Dead, and No One cares,” you’re treated to what’s likely the most high energy, quickly intense track presented here. “March of the Pigs,” to this day, remains a rabid favorite among fans and it’s inclusion during shows has become the standard by which you measure the intensity of the crowd, and the band overall. It’s short, but even in it’s under three minute time length, it more than gets the job done.
Track five though is easily among the band’s most well known songs, and when the desolate synth beat of “Closer,” honing in on the environment of the song, you know what’s about to happen. While I could easily go without listening to this song or hearing it live for a long time, the song itself was the major push the band needed to graduate to the grand arena rock band they became. It’s slimy, sleazy, masochistic, and boy did it piss off a ton of parents when it was spreading it’s vulgar lyrics all over our country. My Aunt absolutely hated the song, going so far as refusing to even have it playing in her car while my cousin and I were just loving it. The best part for me though is the heavy electronic break down that brings everything up in tempo but also signals the finale of the well orchestrated and mixed track.
From here on the album gets only more experimental. “Ruiner” is still way ahead of the game in terms of pulling off ideas that both sell the music and genius of the band, but also push along the concept of the record. By this point the main character is slipping, falling further away from sanity, and images are starting to appear in his brain where they shouldn’t be. Musically the track has one of the best, most triumphant instrumental sections on the whole record. When Reznor mumbles “How’d you get so big, how’d you get so strong,” he’s backed by an impressive thrust of anthemic guitar parts and electronic sections that to this day stand tall up against some of the best instrumentals the band has ever constructed.
From here though, things only get worse for the listener and the character presented. “The Becoming” signals the hard left turn that his life has taken, where multiple personalities are prevalent in the person’s head, while “Big Man with a Gun” is furious and very tongue in cheek in terms of displaying just how hopeless this man’s life is becoming. The last five songs on the record though all deliver eye opening, yet very starly contrasting themes and arrangements. “A Warm Place,” remains beautiful in it’s presentation, but offers little reprieve in the grand scheme of things, while “Eraser” is a slow burn of evil and desperation that gradually pays off on it’s way to the huge musical bomb that’s set off at the song’s conclusion. It perfectly builds tension in the world of the album, and when the drums, guitars and screaming take full hold, there’s really no good that could come of it.
As the record finishes though, “Reptile” stands up excellently when compared to it’s name. The track has a venomous, stalker like vibe that resonates with the title, but the song works well simply because of the thought and precision used in managing it. It’s also the longest track of the record, which gives it ample time to worm and crawl it’s way to the conclusion you all see it coming, not only on the track itself but the album too. After making it through that though, the title track only adds fuel to the fire, and it’s epic slow build up purposely sets up the foregone conclusion everyone gets to when they think about the story of the record: The main character kills himself, or at the very least comes damn close.
Probably the best known track off “TDS” also happens to be the track that concludes the record. To this day “Hurt” remains a poignantly tormented song, with Reznor singing more clearly and vulnerable than he has throughout the record. The chorus also happens to be infectious, and very easy to sing along to be embrace the pain this man is feeling. It’s a cathartic song on the record, but it’s also cathartic to the listener who has been put through a myriad of person torment on their journey through this very good, but very deeply troubled record. Thanks for reading.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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