Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (2010 Reissue) CD review

When it was first released in 1989, the debut album from Nine Inch Nails seemed a little…weak. This was a time when industrial electronic music — whether the aggressive, post-apocalyptic sounds barreling out of Chicago, the martial sturm und drang of European electronicists, or the mind-twisting assault of Skinny Puppy — was at its most potent and daring, so unabashedly danceable and accessible cuts like “Head Like A Hole” and “Down In It” were received with quite a bit of skepticism from the hardcore trenchcoat-and-eyeliner crowd. Of course, that very accessibility wound up rewarding Trent Reznor quite handsomely; thanks to nonstop touring and relentless promotion, PRETTY HATE MACHINE soon went from “decent debut” to “college hit” to “massive success.” Reznor took that success and followed up the debut with works that were darker, more experimental, and, frankly, much more artistic. Whether due to mild embarrassment on Reznor’s part, or the endless legal wranglings that surrounded it, PRETTY HATE MACHINE has long been treated as a tentative aberration on his way to his later, more important work. Now, though, enough time has passed (or lawsuits settled) that Reznor has finally gotten around to giving PRETTY HATE MACHINE a long-overdue reissue. What’s remarkable here is that it’s clear that Reznor lavished this reissue with tremendous amount of attention; instead of simply remastering the tracks for modern fidelity, Reznor apparently felt the need to subject the entire album to a full-blown remix session. There’s considerably more distortion and ambient noise on these new versions – most notably on “Sanctified” and “Head Like A Hole,” which sound like brand-new songs – and the result will likely be disorienting for those who have spent the last 20 years with the original version. Still, there’s no arguing that this new version is considerably richer in texture than the original release; a full-bodied warmth and weirdness emerges from the tracks that once only yielded thin, dancefloor-ready industrial pop. Whether this was Reznor’s original intent is irrelevant, as PHM2010 – complete with a b-side cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love” – acts more as a complement to the original than as a replacement.

First appeared Nov. 22, 2010 at Shockhound.com.

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