Music Review: Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine

Ampersand DailyMusic

I have decided to start doing reviews of different types of media that inspire my philosophical side to talk about the world and attempt to provide trains of thought that could be taken and turned into solutions by the doers in our society. For my first album, I could think of no better album than the emotionally ravishing Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails. This album takes the listener on a chaotic yet very directly ordered and disciplined soundtrack. There is a very deliberate and obvious message of intensity when it comes to all of Nine Inch Nails albums, and this album is no different.

Produced in 1989, early on in Nine Inch Nails history, there is some sounds produced by this album which can give it a dated feel, however, for me, the date something was produced is far less important than the execution of the instruments and mediums being used to create the music I am hearing. If anything, it makes me feel like I’m getting ready to watch the rated R version of Back to the Future at times, which gives me a great big evil smile to think about.

I will provide the track name, number, length, and a link to the lyrics for each song followed by my review of each song. My favorite site for looking up song lyrics is http://www.songmeanings.net/ so if possible I will use their site almost exclusively. Also, I recommend using Spotify to listen to these songs as you read through the review. https://www.spotify.com/us/for-music/ If you do not want to use Spotify visit YouTube and look for the songs on there. http://www.youtube.com/

One last note, I realize my interpretations are not going to match that of the creators or of every body out there, hell maybe not anyone out there. But that’s not what this is all about. I am doing this because I love art and inspiration and blogging. Not to insult anyone or ruin anybody’s day out there so please, if you feel I have insulted you in any way through my interpretations please let me know as kindly as you can conceive how I might change the way I’m looking at a song or film or even just a piece of art work. This is about being open and communicating well with others in a positive manner. Not personal agenda’s.

I realize that often lyrics listen in the albums inserts and album art are sometimes different from what is actually presented on the song itself. I strongly recommend reviewing the lyrics on Song Meanings and attempting to edit where necessary. 

Album cover.
Album cover.

http://www.nin.com

(Please visit the bands site if you enjoyed this album and show some support!)

The album begins….

1. Head Like a Hole 4:59 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/2508/  <<<Lyrics

The intro reminds me of how it felt to be a young boy, excited that my friends were coming over to rough house and run around in the woods with sling shots and paintball guns. You could almost say it’s as if it transports me to the Island where the boys from Lord of the Flies were stranded and I’ve become overwhelmed by my immaturity and am acting out on my youthful animal instincts. The electric drum rhythm, the sporadic kit drums, and the childish voices ringing out in the background forming into a coherent beat and rhythm, just then, Trent Reznor begins to sing.

The lyrics to this song give me the feeling that Trent is speaking out against greed and corruption that comes with the quest to control your own life and others through wealth and power. I feel he takes an honest approach because if I’m honest, I know how greedy I am, while it is not on the same level as Trent Reznor is speaking out against, I believe everyone can learn from this song, rich or poor. This song helps me realize that both rich and poor are just human beings, that each have certain qualities about them that may be different, yet others which make them quite similar.

Depending on your perspective this song is going to mean different things at first, but I find with most artistic presentations, if you spend enough time pondering the messages involved, you can learn to see things from different perspectives and how those persuasions affect your life .  While this song certainly does pull any punches, that is exactly what makes this song so powerful and important to the over all album. It’s as if in one hand those who lust for wealth can say “you can’t take it from me” while in the other those who live in a more giving way can shout “I’d rather die than give you control” and vic-a-versa and mean completely different things, yet share in the idea of being free from one another.

I feel that the over all message for me by the end of the song is that we all have strengths and weaknesses, not all of us can be billionaires, but we can be very wealthy when it comes to other things in life that have nothing to do with money. This song can be either a blue-collar shout down at the rich and wealthy or the wealthy looking down upon what they believe to be their flock. The dichotomy that comes to mind is what makes this song so appealing to me, subjectively of course, being somewhat of a free-thinker I tend to look at things from both sides of any argument, being less well off than others, I tend to lean towards the poor man’s arguments, but see things from those more fortunate perspective at times as well. Keep an open mind, Head like a Hole.

2. Terrible Lie 4:38 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/2523/ <<<<Lyrics

Track number two begins with a strong industrial beat banging, clicking, clanking, and grinding. The drummer lays down a simple, very direct, and loud pattern for Trent to wrap his lyrics around. In the midst of all that, what sounds like a distorted keyboard chimes in with an interesting pattern of notes that help glue it all together.  The questions being asked of God remind me of a believer at the end of his belief in God. The anger and the shame that comes with realizing that perhaps everything you were taught as a child by those who were supposed to be honest with you and look out for you simply were not true comes out in this song very obviously.

The death throws of a mans faith can lead to anger and frustration that can leave a one traumatized. This song in particular has served for me as a means of therapy. Knowing that I wasn’t the only man to feel this way made me feel less alone and afraid. Especially right after realizing I no longer believed in God and feeling totally lost and depraved, realizing my fellow human beings have come to realize this and still were able to go on and create a nice life for themselves gave me great hope. However, I have to admit this song can make me sad at times thinking about how religion in general has poisoned the hearts and minds of millions of people on the planet into believing that it’s worth going around the world and murdering others for not believing the same things.

I feel at the time this was written, Trent was in the “Death Throws” stage of letting go of his faith and losing his religion. Still referring to God as if it still existed, throwing his anger at religion, yet acknowledging the existence of a higher power. If I could talk to Trent about this perhaps I would ask him if he still believes in God first and then point out that some of the lyrics in this song are “I need SOMEONE to hold on to.” Perhaps in this song this was meant to mock those dependent on others are weaker than those who separate from the herd, but I believe having someone to hold on to, through love, respect, and open-minded interaction is a wonderful thing! Humanist, this song is a hidden gem when it comes to your philosophy, one I can respect on many levels.

3. Down in It 3:46 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3495/ <<<<Lyrics

The track opens with what sounds to me like a dance party club scene bass sequence. It feels out-of-place exiting the previous track, but aggressively catchy enough to blend in and take the listener into a new realm of musical play. The choppy sound effects in the back ground steps up the tempo, followed by a flowing effect leading into Trent’s lyrics, which sound less like singing and more like an expressive form of speech. The drumming remains consistent, simple, yet unique.

This song addresses an important issue that is still and more than likely forever will be a side effect of waking up to certain realities that are unavoidable once you reach a certain age of enlightenment. For those who choose to see, they will experience a sense of higher moral ground than others. This is a cycle of behavior that Trent seems to be addressing perhaps as a warning to others to never think of yourself superior to your peers. We like to think because we know something unique about the world that some how it puts us above others when in fact, doing so will only reflect how similar to those you oppose you really are.

For me, growing up with the internet, instant access to information that was previously unattainable by most, this lead me to a superiority complex for a few years where everyone else was a sheep and I and a few others had a one up on everyone else. What arrogance I displayed because I came to realize that everything I know is just a fraction of a fraction of what’s out there and I am NOBODY to judge others for knowing or not knowing anything. The more you try to separate yourself from the others, the more you stay the same as them. Perhaps this song is meant to inspire a different way of looking at the world.

4. Sanctified 4:58 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3496/ <<<<<Lyrics

The drum effects begin with a simple rhythm and beat, the space sound effects draw you in to a bass riff that flows into the lyrics. The tension builds quickly as Trent ask several questions that perhaps most people will ask themselves when they are infatuated with another or perhaps in a different way addicted to a drug. This song is telling the story of an individual who will do anything to please their infatuation or perhaps their addiction. Their entire life revolves around their next encounter with the object of their obsession.  How far will one go in order to satisfy and feel justified in what they are doing, even if it’s hurting them in the long run?

Considering relationships, we’ve all seen what happens when someone becomes too involved with someone who simply isn’t the right person for them. People will do almost anything to feel loved, even pretend someone loves them even if they obviously do not. When it comes to drugs, an individual addicted will come up with any reason what so ever to get their next fix, even if it makes no logical sense. To that person however, it is a 100% legitimate excuse, whatever it may be.  Often we feel we are justified in our actions when in reality we really aren’t. The evidence of this comes from the fruit of the behavior. Things keep getting worse, yet we sometimes choose to lie to ourselves and continue down that path.

Another way I look at all of this is that perhaps we need those lies in a strange and perhaps grotesque way. Perhaps these low points and flaws about us is exactly what helps us grow into a more complete human being. At the end of the day not one of us is perfect so looking in the mirror and hopefully seeing our flaws leads us to a better understanding of what life is really all about. Maybe this means we really are sanctified in making these mistakes, as long as we learn from them and grow.

5. Something I Can Never Have 5:54 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/36302/ <<Lyrics

The ghostly intro features a deep droning noise accompanied by a haunting piano piece. I feel as though I’m entering a dark realm of mystery and intrigue. Trent again uses his words deliberately in a speaking voice, rather than belting out the song’s questions and answers. The lyrics give way to more droning and piano, birds chirping in the background, and the sound of a distant violin is barely audible. Everything about this song begs the listener to listen very closely to all of the little details going on throughout the entire song.

Some things in life are simply not meant to be, yet we hold on to these feelings don’t we? Have you ever been so close to someone, yet, very far apart? What a terrifying notion that you can love someone with all your heart, even change for them, and improve yourself in order to impress them to be with you, but they just won’t have you. I’m not sure there is anything more painful than this situation that almost everyone finds themselves in at one time or another in life. Being rejected despite your endless love and attention can cause us to become obsessive and destructive. We begin to alienate our life in order to prove your love for another who simply will not have you. This song is yet another warning from Trent to the listener. Yes, love is tremendous and glorious, but it can also become something very ugly if we are not careful.

I think this song, at the end of the day, is Trent coming to the realization that there are some things in life you are not meant to have. You do not own anyone and despite how sad it makes you feel, you cannot force things that aren’t meant to be and you cannot force others to change just to suit your needs. No matter how much you’ve changed, no matter how much you think you love someone, and no matter how much time passes by revisiting this will often just remind you how much time you’ve wasted and open up old scars reminding you who you used to be. And in a way, can shed a bright light on the good things you have now. Focus on the good you have now instead of trying to attain something you can’t have.

6. Kinda I Want To 4:33 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/38639/ <<<Lyrics

Grinding into this track you’re greeted abruptly with a trip hop track and an aggressive vocal effort from Trent Reznor. Exploring again the realm of addiction, infatuation, obsession, and other flaws in humanity that have to be experienced first hand to understand. Having been through my own problems, I have to admit this song nails that feeling right on the head. The music is devious, the lyrics are aggressive, the meanings of the words cannot be mistaken. It’s that selfish feeling inside that causes you to lie to your best friends face and do exactly the opposite of what everyone is telling you to do just because you want to. Forget about modesty this song seems to celebrate that feelings of freedom of exploring your desires to their fullest. Or does it?

” I’m not sure of what I should do. When every thought I have is of you. All of my excuses turn to lies. Maybe God will cover up his eyes. Why does it have to be this way, why does it have to be? Kinda I want to, maybe just for tonight we can pretend it’s alright. What’s the price I pay? I don’t care what they say, I want to. I want to, I’ll take my chance tonight.”

Reading those words only makes me realize just how selfish we can become over such minuscule events in our lives that do nothing but agitate those around us and cause them grief and perhaps even further into pain and depression. Perhaps part of this song celebrates the idea of letting go of your selfish desires and simply existing in peace with those around you. Letting go of that which anchor’s you and your peers and turning a bad situation into a good thing. In fact, this song puts this awful situation so bluntly that I cannot help but look past the arrogance that produced it and see a young man getting over his troubles and delusions to be able to produce such an amazing song. Top notch song.

7. Sin 4:06 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/37350/<<<<Lyrics

The sound effects that greet you here are other worldly echoing, repeating, spacious, and whistling things. Perhaps a voice saying “Jump” repeatedly with a monotone bass pattern leading into a driving tune with immediate and growling lyrics. Obviously someone is feels strongly about something so let’s move on to the meat of this very robust song.

Have you ever had a relationship with where ideologies collide? The frustration that comes with someone not understanding your point of view is tremendous and affects anyone who has a mind of their own to use. Throw love in the mix and it’s a recipe for drama on epic proportions. It starts innocently enough and then one day you are looked down upon or even looked up to by your significant other as something you really aren’t. This causes you to try to be more like yourself which in turn could repulse the skeptic or disappoint the admirer. It’s like you have to live a lie in order for some people to accept you for who you are. I believe the point of this song is to express the anger and frustration that awaits anyone who attempts to live this lie.

There is a heavy emphasis on punishment, morality, and anger in this track. It is carried by an amazing soundtrack which finds different nooks and crannies and gives me a sense of chaos. The chaos you will feel if you choose to share your life with someone who just does not understand you. One day you feel you can handle it and in the very next moment the eyes of the person you are sharing your life with will meet yours and you realize that you will have to give up on all of your principles and morals just to satisfy them. The title of this song suggests one sin begets another and leads to yet another. How long will you let this go before you realize you are the sinner?

8.That’s What I Get 4:30 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/38642/ <<<<Lyrics

This song to me represents everything that’s great about this album yet it also feels like the hidden gem of the entire package.  It is not the most complex when it comes to  lyrics and story being told, however, the classic love/tragedy/triumph story has never been told so uniquely. It begins with a driving theme, mid range bass track and the clanking twangy sounds as if an array of metal wires are being plucked. Just on que, a mixture of delicate and soft synthesizers with a consistent deep bass pattern fill the background which are accompanied by words which everyone who’s ever had their heartbroken have spoken to themselves since the beginning of time.

The crashing noises and zipping sounds flow into the driving bass theme from the beginning and we get a singing bridge with excellent musical accompaniment that then set’s the stage for this songs brilliant ending. The snap of a snare drum signals my favorite part of the song.

“That’s what I get” becomes more than the name of a song, or a what you tell yourself when you are sad. It becomes empowerment as you hear Trent accepting his mistake and realizing he has to move on from the pain he caused himself. You can hear the inspiration of a new life in the lively drumming pattern and synth pumping out an inspirational tune over the background of everything else you’ve already heard. What I love about this song is that the idea has been done before, but not like this. I think anyone can relate to this song if they have a mind to hear the story being told. “That’s what I get” becomes a lesson learned. In the end you get a the classic story, but accompanied by music you’ve never heard before. I can’t help but appreciate what Trent was going for in this track.

9.The Only Time 4:47 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/38639/ <<<<Lyrics

From the onset we stagger into this song now knowing what’s about to hit us. Just some lyrics and a catchy bass line, but the lyrics lead me to feel drunk, tipsy, and disoriented with the bass line chopping up his words. The feeling I get is similar to that rush of adrenaline you get when you’ve made a fool of yourself in public after having one to many drinks. All the eyes staring at you only embolden your resolve to do whatever you want. You go through new acquaintances as quickly as you go through the drinks until finally you see that woman smiling wildly at you and you stumble over to her. You share a drunken conversation that makes no sense to anyone but you and her. Both of you realize what you’re about to do to each other is wrong but also know you’re going to do it anyways. Off you go out the door stumbling into her car as she takes you on a wild ride back to her apartment where dirty little secrets are going to be made between you two.

This song goes even deeper into the human experience. Why is it that we pick our scabs, say things we shouldn’t, or stay friends with people who treat us like crap? Why do we put ourselves through strange and new experiences only to come out the other side a damaged human being? Why on earth would anyone put themselves through something like that? The answer to that is we all do it, the only difference is a matter of degree. Some of us are more sadomasochistic than others, so the harm we bring on ourselves and others might be enjoyable for a time, until you learn that it’s not what you needed from life. When you begin to question whether or not you’ve made a mistake, it’s usually too late to do anything but let go and walk away. What pops out to me is how this can relate to every single one of us. An ultra-conservative Christian might think using the lords name in vain is as naughty as an atheist college student thinks it is to cheat on their significant other. Life is full of those experiences where reality pushes us beyond our normal routine and causes us to seek out new experiences. Sometimes this leads to unfortunate tragedy yet other times a pleasant surprise awaits. Either way, it’s how we live our lives, no matter where you’re basing your moral standards.

The title of the song suggests that being pushed outside our comfort zone and experiencing a new thing in life is the only time he ever feels alive. I think this is true for everyone though as far as the degree to which one could define something being a “new” experience. But perhaps the opposite is true as well. Perhaps the behaviors we form over time lead us to a comfortable routine for a very good reason. While there is nothing wrong with experiencing new things in life, sometimes the emotional strain that comes with it can truly hinder one’s ability to be productive and happy with life. I think you reach a point in life where you know what you want and what you like to do enough to realize whether or not you will enjoy something enough to take it on. This is a sign of maturity for a lot of people, myself included, knowing a person is somewhat set in their ways shows me that they stand on certain principles and moral ideas that would be extremely difficult to change in them. I see the good in this as well as the flaw because after all, we would never have gotten set in those behaviors without at first trying them to begin with. Life is as much about taking risk as it is maintaining a level of consistency. Both have their place in life.

10. Ringfinger 5:40 http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/38647/ <<<Lyrics

The closing title for this album will leave the listener longing for more. This song greets you with a synthesized melody and steady kick drum beat. Trent Reznors voice joins momentarily and the point of the song becomes clear almost immediately. There is no hidden meaning in this song and that’s its strength. Everything about this song is out in the open and so are the lyrics. This songs lyrics and music seem to be at odds with one another until you really think about the over all message. The beginning remains mostly as described but adds another layer of synth music and an additional bass line eventually leading to a high-pitched guitar riff. You will notice that not one part of this song is like the others as it moves along. More and more layers begin to add up as the music get’s more intense. Eventually, the lyrics take on a new meaning once the music catches up to the over all theme of the song which I will interpret in the next paragraph.

We have many personal relationships with people and impersonal relationships with various technologies, addictions, and events in our life that sometimes wear us thin. The feelings mount in this part of the song as it becomes obvious that no one in their right mind should take this sort of abuse sitting down. When you make a commitment to something, you go all the way, absolutely, but should you start to feel worn out it is important to take a break from those things. Commitments shouldn’t be life sentences of pain, anguish, and mental torture. Once the song hits it’s stride it gives me the feeling that Trent Reznor wanted to communicate his frustrations about his commitments in life but realized that’s part of what makes life so challenging and rewarding. He didn’t produce this album by sitting on his hands and complaining about how sore he was, how tired he got on long nights, or by letting go of his commitments. As frustrating as those commitments can get, getting through them is part of what it takes to do something great with your life.

However, I think there is a darker side to point out and that is when it comes to people and relationships and marriage, commitment takes on a whole new level of importance. Putting a ring on someone’s finger and promising that person that their life is just as, if not, more important than your own is nothing to take lightly. What happens all the time in the USA with marriages? Need I remind you how often marriages end in divorce? Is there any reason to wonder why in a society that’s all about instant gratification how a marriage could end up with one of the participants feeling used and abused by the other? This song present this problem in bold living color for the listener to soak in as yet another warning from this amazing album. Do not make promises you know you cannot keep.

In Conclusion….

This album and Nine Inch Nails in general is not going to be for everyone. Trent Reznor has always been about trying new things with music and has always had an aggressive nature when presenting his crafts to the world. I think the thing people misunderstand most about the aggressive nature in some music is the attempt to present and wonder about things that society at large and popular culture normally does not give much attention to. Exploring why someone is being bullied and the emotional processes that come with it for example is something many may want to avoid facing when trying to enjoy music, but for me, it only enhances the experience. The idea that music should only be happy and go-lucky to me seems unrealistic and misses the point of what art in all of its forms is supposed to be. I can’t help but imagine the benefits society has gained from the small amount of people out there who do enjoy this kind of music and take a little more seriously than just banging your head like a mad man. The people who stopped to actually listen to the story being told in these kinds of songs and who enjoy this kind of music for those reasons are some of the most polite and honest people I’ve ever met. I think it’s because artist like Trent Reznor aren’t afraid to ask the challenging questions and make the controversial points with their art work.

As for this album, obviously it is full of obligatory drama padded by aggressive music which drives the point home. I recommend this album to anyone who enjoys philosophy, politics, and longs for something to challenge their sense of reality. This may even set well with fans of techno and industrial music just for the musical mechanics going on, which spreads across most of Nine Inch Nails library. This just happens to be one of the first efforts from the project so I thought it would be a good place to start with these music reviews. If you’ve never listened to Nine Inch Nails before, please understand that each album is unique from the last one. You may really enjoy this album, but not be so much of a fan of the next. Don’t judge everything you think about Nine Inch Nails off this one album.

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