It’s really hard to rank albums. So many emotions come into play – you’re essentially arranging tracks and albums like Lego pieces. To kick off Mind Equals Blown’s album ranks, I’m going to head down the rabbit hole of my top four records from Nine Inch Nails. The band in it’s many incarnations have been around since 1988. If you’ve listened to Nine Inch Nails albums, you know that they are a snapshot in to Reznor’s life at that particular time – very honest, unrelenting, and iniquitous in some aspects.
1) The Downward Spiral: If you are getting into Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral is your place to start. Sometimes our greatest works are made through strife and struggle. When originally making this album, Reznor experienced such a severe case of writer’s block that almost derailed the record from the beginning. A loose concept album depicting the main character’s slow descent into oblivion, TDS is a dark musical abyss. Songs like “March Of The Pigs” and “Closer” border the industrial/dance side. “March Of The Pigs” has a take on metal with distorted guitars and a small piano part at the end that puts a smile on the aggressive track’s face. One of the most storied songs in NIN’s long history is “Hurt”, one of the most emotional songs I’ve heard and later remade by Johnny Cash.
2) The Fragile: I usually don’t like double albums because they lack a cohesive structure, but The Fragile is a different monster. The album is a congruent story of things absolutely falling apart. This is probably Trent Reznor at his lowest, but simultaneously his most daring musically. This album gave us gems such as “The Wretched”, “We’re In This Together Now”, “Starfuckers INC”, and “Just Like You’ve Imagined”. This was Reznor further developing his sound, distancing himself away from the dirty industrial music of The Downward Spiral and forging into different types of rock and electronica. Each track depicts a unadulterated and honest look at Reznor’s breakdown.
3) Year Zero: I actually feel that this is the most underrated album in NIN’s catalog, next to With Teeth. This album was recorded mostly on the road while supporting WT and marked a serious high point in Reznor’s creative streak. The album spawned a very well-planned and involved alternative reality game where fans found USBs in bathrooms with certain tracks on them, a hotline where fans could call in to hear certain aspects of the story, and an eerie post of Los Angeles destroyed on Grammy night. Year Zero marked one of the first albums where Reznor spoke from a third person point of view, focusing on a world where rights are deteriorating and government rises up in a 1984-like way. The album not only has rock tracks like “Beginning Of The End”, but some of my favorites like “Me, I’m Not” and “My Violent Heart”, the latter of which included dance themes visited back in the Pretty Hate Machine days.
4) With Teeth: I know, I know – why not Pretty Hate Machine? PHM would qualify on anyone’s top four. I mean it has “Head Like A Hole” and “Down It In”. For some reason though, With Teeth has a spot in my musical heart. It’s Trent Reznor’s redemption record. Sober and fresh off a six year hiatus, With Teeth is essentially where the hero emerges from defeat with a new sense of self and priority. This album may be considered the more mainstream out of the discography, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t have bite. There were all-out rock jams like “Getting Smaller” and “The Hand That Feeds”, almost sonic wall-esque songs like “The Line Begins To Blur”, and minimal and introspective songs like “Right Where It Belongs” With Teeth was a necessary album in the sense that a new world musically opened up to Reznor, especially with all the scars that came during The Fragile era.