After 15 seconds, the silence is finally broken by a single grazing of a drumstick on a cymbal, followed by the shrill ring of guitar strings tugged and swiped at the head above the string guide. The volume builds. At 46 seconds in, the drums arrive in a rattling, lead-footed march. Finally, with a sharp wail of guitar feedback, lowercase dives in to “Slightly Dazed”.
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“Folding corners into perfect shapes / Went forlorn in a vapor of Elysian escapes”
That’s how these lines to “She Takes Me” read in the liner notes of lowercase’s Kill the Lights, at least. Coming out of the singer’s mouth, that second bit resembles something more like “when forlorn pings make hell each escape.” Not a full minute into the album, and already results diverge from intent. It won’t be the last discrepancy between the lyric sheet and the words that are actually sung—that is, if they even come out as words at all.
After nearly a half-hour of industrial intensity (as well as a fake ending), Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP finally closes with a drastic reworking of “Suck”. Unlike Adam and the Antz’s “Physical (You’re So)”, it’s not quite accurate to call this take on the song a cover. NIN’s Trent Reznor actually recorded the original version of “Suck” with industrial collab Pigface for its 1991 album Gub.
Anger and frustration distilled into EP form, Broken certainly has no contenders for the title of the most direct Nine Inch Nails record. Yet the trim tracklist on the back cover doesn’t tell the whole story. Like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Broken is another early 1990s release that updates the oddball surprises that could be found on vinyl runout grooves for the CD age.
In the case of Broken, simply refrain from pressing the “Stop” button once “Gave Up” concludes and you’ll notice something odd: the CD player track numbers will increase second by second in complete silence. Once your media player reaches track 98, the first of two “hidden” cuts will emerge, a trudging cover of “Physical (You’re So)”.
“Gave Up” is the final listed track on Broken, and in that position it’s well-placed to serve as an encapsulation of the brief EP’s themes. Though the record’s guitar-rock aggression can be empowering to listeners, Broken is really about the loss of control, and the frustration and self-reflection (How did I get to this point? Is it my fault? Do I deserve this?) that can flourish in such circumstances. Trent Reznor’s well-publicized struggles with his label at the time, TVT, are his obvious muses, yet his frustrations are never etched out in detail or specifics. Instead, Reznor opts for bruised proclamations that are succinct and memorable enough to enable them to be applied with universality.