I’ve hit sort of an existential crisis slash wall with some of the albums appearing on this year’s One Record Per Day list.
I’m realizing more and more what makes record reviews relevant: the newness of them. This was never going to be a yearlong “album review” project. Now it rests somewhere in between “Can he finish the project?” and “Seriously, when will my favorite albums come up?” to band primer to “Why is it just a single GIF?”
It most often happens for albums about which I am truly/madly/jaded, or the ‘classics.’ Today is one of those albums.
What more can be said about Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 release The Downward Spiral? It is, for me, the best album released in the 1990s. Period, bar none, the gold standard of the decade, surpassing even NIN’s ’99 release The Fragile.
Today’s post is prompted by a new Stereogum list ranking the top 14 Trent Reznor albums that came out recently.
I decided to give my perspective on that list instead of writing about The Downward Spiral. Nothing I can say as a music writer can add to the legacy, and I don’t want to look like a heel, so I’ll just leave this here.
The Stereogum list is not limited to NIN releases alone. Rather, it delves also into his work with Atticus Ross on soundtracks, as well as his newest project, How to Destroy Angels.
I am not including How to Destroy Angels at all, because… no. I have no gripes with the musicality of their albums, because Trent Reznor was behind them. But I could never get down with the vocals. Nothing against Mariqueen. I’m sure she’s a sweet person. But I like my Reznor releases like I like my coffee: black, with a pinch of sugar (the real stuff). She’s the Splenda that just doesn’t fit. Any gaps you see in the list are those HTDA releases.
This is their list:
13. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV
12. Nine Inch Nails – The Slip
11. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo soundtrack
10. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
7. Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
6. Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth
5. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network soundtrack
4. Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
3. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
2. Nine Inch Nails – Broken (EP)
1. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
It’s okay, but not great. Here’s my problems with the list:
First, total disregard for the Ghosts series. I find it hard to believe that for whoever is writing this thing, it’s dead last, in front of only a HTDA album (y tho~).
Second, the bias here is skewed decidedly toward Rezzy’s early work. Which, while pivotal and even seminal at points, has come a long way in both theme and scope.
Last, I get that the Broken EP is good, but… ahead of The Fragile? And Year Zero? No way man. It’s an EP.
So instead, here’s how my list breaks down:
11. NIN – Hesitation Marks
Only because it really has not sunk in yet at all. I have listened to it maybe twice since it’s been out because I’ve been inundated with the rest of this year in music.
10. NIN – Broken EP
I mean, yeah, it has “Wish” and “Last”… but it’s an EP. Stereogum be trippin’.
9. NIN – With Teeth
Something I’ll explore later this year, but the tl;dr version is this: With Teeth is the band’s most unfortunate arena rock record. It’s so conventional in comparison to everything else.
8. NIN – The Slip
“1,000,000” is my jam. So is the track that follows, “Letting You”, but the rest is too out there for me (see: “Demon Seed”).
7. NIN – Pretty Hate Machine
I guess I’m just one of those heretics that doesn’t identify with their earliest work as much as others do (namely, this list). Sorry ‘bout it.
5. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo soundtrack
Have you even heard “An Itch“ ? That song is everything.
4. NIN – The Fragile
When it arrived (alongside the Sega Dreamcast) in 1999, this album changed everything for me – a revolution, even. The institution of music for me was different after hearing such a diverse, lush, decrepit album.
3. NIN – Year Zero
I might be biased because I saw a lot of these songs on the Lights in the Sky tour, which added new elements to tracks like “Me, I’m Not” and “The Great Destroyer.”
2. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network soundtrack
One of the best soundtracks of the last decade+. Almost no comparison (looking at you, Clint Mansell).
1. NIN – The Downward Spiral
Finally something we can agree upon. This album is decades ahead of its time, and deserves any and all praise heaped upon it. It is a testament to the creativity of Trent Reznor. It’s a grimy record, but filthy good. Even after listening to this thing three times in a row today, I can say that, while “Closer” is what people will remember, it doesn’t pale in comparison to a song like “Ruiner” or the title track.
Maybe it’s the fact that I was only 7 years old when Downward Spiral came out, but I feel like my generation never got something like that. Maybe I’m wrong. I can’t point to one album that created so much controversy, but was underwritten by the fact that it’s an incredible, lasting record. I’d like to be proven wrong.
From their masterpiece The Downward Spiral, this is Nine Inch Nails’ “The Becoming” –
Standout tracks: Front to back, one of the best and most underrated albums of the 1990s.
Weakest track: Everything here is better than “Closer,” even though that’s the only song people remember from it.
RIYL: Top 25 albums of the 1990s lists (but mostly ones that include this one in the top 5).