When Trent Reznor went gold in a genre that had never been there, singing "Head like a hole/ Black as your soul/ I'd rather die than give you control" on the first Lollapalooza tour, the key to his triumph wasn't just adding extra guitars to Pretty Hate Machine's teenybop death disco-- it was writing an industrial song with the word "I" in it. In the music Reznor loves, artists reject the confessional to act like carnival barkers, drawing you into the fun house: the goal is to blast or pervert a listener clear out of any settled individuality. But Reznor is different. Though it clearly embarrasses him-- causing him to hide behind the name of a nonexistent band, shy from putting his face on his records, and let friends like Foetus and Coil spend an album's length of time removing his personality from his songs( the Fixed remixes of the Broken EP)-- his instincts as an artist ultimately serve the superbly egotistical, needy rock star within. No wonder Axl Rose wanted NIN to open for GN'R.
On Downward Spiral, Reznor opens up his palette, which for this artist is as brave and idealistic as anything he's ever permitted of himself. One minute into "March of the Pigs," the industrial raving strips down to a regular old piano tinkle; Reznor sings, "Now doesn't that make you feel better?" Well, yes, actually. Didn't think you had it in you, Trent. With interplays of hard and soft, electronic and acoustic, hyper-masculine and falsetto, ranting and crooning, the pacing and buried surprises on this album are close to perfect. Besides the lurching, Zeplike "Reptile," the peak moment is "Closer". An arch new-wavey vocal dallies over a riff like Bowie's "Fame." Reznor gets to the chorus-- "I want to fuck you like an animal/ Iwant to feel you from the inside"-- and the song finds a groove, powerful without fraying off into white noise. Central to the innovative soundscape, which includes King Crimson's Adrian Belew on "texture generating guitars," are NIN's multiple nods to classic rock. As Sonic Youth taught us long ago, an anti-rock sound embracing rock forms is as delicious as it gets.


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