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NINE INCH NAILS - Pretty Hate Machine (2010 Remaster)   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Monday, 13 December 2010

This record saved my life.

Whenever I am alone, hurt, or needing solace against a world that is neither cruel or caring but simply indifferent I return to this record. In these grooves is a comfort : I was not alone. My feelings were not unique, and I could and would rise above the world that I – and all of us – inherited that was not of our choosing.

It hardly seems 21 years since this record first hit my ears ; and yet, “Pretty Hate Machine” has been with me all my life. I first heard this on a copied cassette sent over from the US, then saved the furious £17.99 to buy an import on Compact Disc almost two years before it was finally released in Britain. For months I sat there, hearing “Ringfinger” cut short a minute early thanks to the then-prevalent C90.

On record and Compact Disc, “Pretty Hate Machine” has been poorly served with compartively quiet mastering and a complete lack of care in presentation. Until now. Finally released from contractual netherworld, the album has been returned to Trent Reznor, who has finally remastered and represented the record as it should be.

But this record saved my life. I was at a difficult age and point in my life, recovering from my first, awful relationship, barely 18, growing up in a moribund Britain in the midst of a brutal recession. In this record, Reznor vocalised my entire philosophy and reality. There was not a day my Matsui cassettes and Aiwa walkman did not play back this soothing exorcism.

Every note of this is still clear, pristine, in my memory. Every flicker, every bump, every drum hit, squawk, and breath. If I say I’ve heard the original release of this record 1,000 times, it’s probably an understatement. The lyrics run through me like a stick of rock : for when it was released, and every day since then, this record has been a guide and a philosophy : the hymn to resistance that is “Head Like A Hole”, the furious rebuttal of deception that is “Terrible Lie”. “Down In It” – the first song I ever heard on MTV in 1989 – was my battle cry of survival “I used to be so big and strong, I used to know my right and wrong, I used to never be afraid, I used to be somebody!” was both a bit of adolescent self-pitying, and, at the same time, was a mantra – the place I wanted to get back to, and my path to it : working my way through it with anger. This record was a weapon I used to stay untouched in a corrupt world, a weapon that changed my life.

Ultimately, lyrically, “Pretty Hate Machine” is the sound of a man wronged by the injustices of the world, feeling the hard end of poverty and betrayal, and channelling it into a wall of synthetic sound. Even if Nine Inch Nails had never recorded another note, this album would’ve secured their status in the genre. I held onto this album for years as a guide : for it reflected my feelings and my anger at the world, and it comforted me : not easily, but with the knowledge that I was not alone in this.

On record, Nine Inch Nails were, to start with, a synthetic proposition : I remember the shock – and joy – of the accompanying tour as the four piece smothered the songs in vicious, beautiful guitars, and the songs became what they always should have been. Not that that matters : there was a gulf between the studio sound of NIN – a supremely angry Depeche Mode – and the brutal beautiful assault of the live band that exited 1991 with a shower that, to me, was heavier than Metallica at that point. Even now, the show in Birmingham in 1991 still ranks in my top 3 shows of all time, 20 years, and over 1,000 gigs later. This record is one of the best debuts of all time. Full stop. End of debate.

One word of note is that this is not an expanded, deluxe edition : there are at remixes of 5 album cuts, 9 demo songs, and rare material from the era excised and only available on rotting, old CD singles, and at least 40 minutes of circulating demo recordings for the record – all in releasable quality. The only extra you will get is a strange cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” that sits as a bookend. The exclusion of this worthy material is baffling and is perhaps the biggest drawback of this otherwise immaculate set. But what an album.

Another point is that in the remastering, long familiar and known textures and sounds have been remixed. Random sounds, drum hits, speech samples, atmospheres and noises are now absent. It doesn’t affect the songs, but for those of us who have lived, breathed, and memorised this record over the past 2 decades this slight historical revisionism feels wrong and disrespectful. It’s not quite “Han Shot First”… and reflects perhaps a change of mind in the 21 years since release, but the record did not need this, and it alters the body of work to do so. I remembered history – and the facts of the matter – differently. Ultimately though, this is a small comment : “Pretty Hate Machine” is a record that was and is a beacon in the fog of life, and a power and a strength that changed and saved my life when it was released. And I’m not the only person who can say that.


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