Wednesday, June 13, 2012

200- The Downward spiral. So much hurt

Album: The Downward Spiral
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Year: 1994
Genre: Rock


1. Mr. Self Destruct
2. Piggy
3. Heresy
4. March of the Pigs
5. Closer
6. Ruiner
7. The Becoming
8. I Do Not Want This
9. Big Man with a Gun
10. A Warm Place
11. Eraser
12. Reptile
13. The Downward Spiral
14. Hurt

Ironic that I should hit a landmark like album 200 only to have it entitled The Downward Spiral. In theory we're ascending greater heights at this point and not descending anywhere. Every album should be a further step towards magnificence until number one makes us spontaneously weep tears of joy at its flawless perfection.

It's possible The Downward Spiral might induce crying in some listeners but not tears of elation. The theme behind Nine Inch Nails' most acclaimed album is the protagonist's slow descent towards a suicide attempt during the final track. Theoretically that means you could listen to the album in reverse order and it would detail one man's ascent from the depths of despair into a happier place, which would work if the album didn't start bleak already. The point from which the hero spirals downwards is fairly low in the first place.

Track One is Mr Self Destruct which features upbeat lyrics like:

I am the truth from which you run
and I control you
I am the silencing machine
and I control you
I am the end of all your dreams
and I control you

Cheery stuff. From that whimsical highpoint the album descends slowly to the final track Hurt. Not since Hendrix covered All Along the Watchtower has a song been so conclusively taken over by another artist. Johnny Cash's version of Hurt, recorded less than a year before his death, takes Trent Reznor's original, strips away the anger and layers on an old man's melancholy at the end of his life. In an era where every technique, idea and affectation had been used in a video clip at least twice, Cash delivered one of the greatest set of images ever to accompany a musical performance.

A concept album about one man's downward spiral into nihilistic, existentialist despair is a recipe for the worst kind of self-indulgent tedium but Reznor manages to salvage his vanity project by being original and unpredictable. It's introspective industrial rock with techno beats and instrumentation that refuses to be bogged down in any specific genre. While it's generally heavy and Reznor delivers vocals with a sense of shouty angst, it's capable of throwing you for a complete loop throughout its running length.

The Downward Spiral requires a certain occassion to appreciate, it's not something you would fling on when guests pop by for dinner or you wanted something upbeat and breezy to accompany your housework, but if you're in a dark mood and you don't want manufactured blackness it might be just what you need.

Highlight: Hurt (but it's even better when Cash does it)
Lowlight: By the final few songs the sense of despair might be too much for some.

Influenced by:  Techno, german industrial music and despair.
Influenced: Johnny Cash,

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is computer-generated malaise-oriented music to hate yourself by and which will turn you into the wussy which will embarass both of your parents (unless your Dad is gay and bi-polar)."

-Amazon reviews: offending people for over a decade and still going strong.

So is this a downward spiral into terrible music or damn good fun? Let me know below.


  1. I must say, this album is extremely difficult, probably because it is so caustic. It's also not a great introduction to the band, which I learned the hard way (this was my first introduction to the band, and to industrial music in general). Needless to say, I got their debut Pretty Hate Machine a week later, which is far more accessible, and which I like more, even to this day. To be honest, a few years ago when I first viewed this list, I thought that PHM was on the list; needless to say, it unfortunately is not, for whatever reason.

    By the way, I hate to be pedantic, but the genre that you list should be a bit more descriptive. Nine Inch Nails are widely regarded as an industrial band and cannot be described as simply as just rock music. I know that the genre description is relatively minor and insignificant, but I would like there to be at least a little bit more thought put into the categorization of these albums that are listed.

    1. I really struggled with the categories and wanted to keep them as vague as possible in order to make sifting through the blogs by tags easier.

      I worried that if I tried to get too specific I'd start calling albums "Post punk industrial soundscape" or something and the tag list would become cluttered and meaningless.

    2. lol but you don't have to give this album a crazy tag; 'Industrial' would work just fine, instead of 'rock.'

      Also, I am kind of surprised that you actually liked this album.

      If you like Nine Inch Nails, I would actually recommend TV on the Radio's "Return to Cookie Mountain." It's not industrial music, but it has a certain heavy and dense vibe that for some reason reminds me of Nine Inch Nails, this album in particular. It's a very strange album, but also a very great album. Just letting you know, that "Return to Cookie Mountain" is kind of a difficult listen. I would also recommend their next two albums: "Dear Science" and "Nine Types of Light." They really are one of the best bands of the 2000s, imo.

    3. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check them out.