With Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails coming off two shows at Radio City Music Hall and heading into Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre tonight and tomorrow, we travel back in time almost a quarter-century to music critic Eric Weisbard’s 1994 take on the “man who chose to live where Sharon Tate died.”
Weisbard describes NIN’s Downward Spiral album as “a themed set of songs about a horribly alienated protagonist who tries sex, religion, drugs, and whatnot, takes his life, then sings a song and a half from the beyond. (Are you listening, Pete Townshend?)” The reviewer is initially skeptical, opining, “In the music Reznor loves, artists reject confessional to act like carnival barkers, drawing you into the fun house: ‘Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Today we feature a foetus scraped from a wheel, sex on wheels, and a hot rod built by Jesus himself.’ The goal is to blast or pervert a listener clear out of any settled individuality.” Weisbard also points out that Reznor’s “instincts as an artist ultimately serve the superbly egotistical, needy rock star within. No wonder Axl Rose wanted NIN to open for G N’ R.” But Weisbard comes around a little later: “[Reznor’s] pose lends itself to power chords and catchy choruses. And it’s fake as…hell — even if the emotions Reznor is expressing are real to him and lots of other people too, because every self-serving gesture of failure and debasement only ends up adding to the magnitude of Nine Inch Nails’ accomplishment.” Plus the “pacing and buried surprises on this album are close to perfect…and NIN still crank stray noise like an organ grinder with a thermonuclear fuzz box.”
That should be more than enough reason for the uninitiated to head off to Spotify.
And since we don’t skimp here at Archives Central, we’ve also included Ann Powers’s review of Brutal Youth by Elvis Costello, “the vitriolic wit of a newly pissed generation,” and Danyel Smith looking into the “perfectly convoluted and confused, deep and touching, outspoken, androgynous, and achingly sexy enough to be the star of your own detailed daydreams” Me’Shell NdegéOcello.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2018