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Nine Inch Nails – Broken

January 6, 2007

With all due respect, should Pretty Hate Machine really stand as the obelisk that it is over the industrial genre? I’m personally not so sure. It is a great record, that much is true, but if anything it should get the respect for breaking ground and being the first great industrial record there was. But by now, the record is simply dated. While the songs are mostly fantastic, the production does not quite live up to todays standards, a fair amount of industrial ideals are not fleshed out, and it is simply not the best industrial record there is. It sounds very eighties even when I listen to it now. There is a lot of echo on the vocals and snare, and the instrumentation is very programmed. Pretty Hate Machine is damn good, and it brought a vital sense of clarity to the genre, but not only is it not as good as The Downward Spiral but it also doesn’t change much or express the anger that the industrial genre can often times be all about. Trent Reznor was really getting somewhere with Head Like A Hole and proved himself by making a fantastic electronica record, but it wasn’t until his follow up EP record Broken when his ambitions truly came first circle.

By 1992, Trent Reznor, the main man behind Nine Inch Nails, was in a frustrating place. He had basically been fucked over by TVT for the past three years and was having extremely hard times with the label releasing any music. That as well as a live lineup that was hard pressed to settle and the frustration of setting up a new lable that he wouldn’t be pained by, the still active Nothing, surely made Reznor pretty upset. The freedom of having his own label prooved fruitful, because now he could move where ever he wanted musically and express anger through music of his recent problems. That’s exactly what he did. He sacrificed a bit of polish to get his feelings out appropriately. For that reason, while Broken may not be as good, important, or rewarding as Pretty Hate Machine, it at least seems to make a bit more sense and is more honest about things. This is the first of NINs records to feature outward anger and grinding guitars that would come to distinguish some of the later records. For these reasons and more, this is sort of a landmark record in NINs career.

The opening track Pinion is a bit of useless filler, but it foreshadows things to come, so it does sort of have a use. Same thing goes for Help Me I Am In Hell. Both are essentially throwaway instrumentals, but some of Reznors later instrumental creations would be in the same league and yet infinitely better. These tracks could have just been made louder and they would have meant significantly more. But if these tracks really meant that much and Reznor really had that much to say, this would have been a full album and not an EP. But theres not anything wrong with just an EP, because this one does justice. The other four initial songs are fantastic.

The second song Wish is the standout, and the one that got radio play. It’s fast, driving, and adrenaline pounding, qualities that nothing on Pretty Hate Machine had all of. Head Like A Hole had two of them but it was just a bit too top heavy to really get the listener completely excited, and at that it’s intentions were simply different and it suceeded more in being a sexual song. Wish, however, does the job. It’s flaw is a big one though that almost puts it on the line. I have never had a problem with any of Nine Inch Nail’s production other than with this song. After Trent says “This is the first day of my last days,” the guitar explosion sounds mediocre when it could sound less fuzzy and much cooler. The rest of the song is fine but this misfire that repeats itself throughout the song is a big problem for the song, and for that reason it doesn’t quite unseat Head Like A Hole as coolest and most effective song for up to this point in Trent Reznor’s career.

The other songs are just as good. Happiness In Slavery is a fantastic jolt of anger, and expresses honest feelings about a lack of freedom in the record industry (at least that’s what I think). A heavy swagger is enduced fully and effectively by Last, and is just as headbangable as Wish despite how slow it is. It broods, something that is great for industrial music. And Gave Up is cool too, but not quite as good as it’s predecessors. It does feature guitar production that should have been featured on Wish, and putting the two next to one another is very telling.

And then after Gave Up wraps up, we have ninety one consecutive one second long tracks of silence. Anyone with half a brain knows there is a bonus track in store. In fact, there are two, and they are both covers. The songs are Physical (You’re So) by Adam And The Ants (interesting choice) and Suck by Pigface. Both songs aren’t very close to the mood of the rest of the songs on the EP, but there was really no reason to hide them as they are both very good. Physical (You’re So) is a perfect vessel for Trent Reznor’s more light tastes, and yet it is just as heavy and romping as it’s predecessors. Even so, it is almost positive in a hard rock sort of way. It is a completely faithful yet strikingly new interpretation on an already good song. The last track, Suck, measures up though. I’m not completely familiar with Pigface at all so I don’t really know the origins of this song too well at all, but I believe even the original had Trent on vocals and he may have also been a songwriter. I don’t think this is Pigface’s original version, but it’s a great song.

Really, I can’t say enough good things about this EP. It’s actually one of my favorite EPs ever just because it stays completely consistant without really missing a beat save a few tiny things I could nitpick about, and it builds on Trent Reznors ever-expanding stylistic repertoire. This is essential for even casual fans, and stands tall next all of NINs full albums, even Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. If you like industrial, or even just hard rock or metal, GET THIS. Don’t even think twice.

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