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.
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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.
“Slave screams!” As with “Last”, the fifth (officially listed) track on Broken goes straight for the jugular. A dense cacophony of earth-shuddering rhythms, scything guitar and keyboards, and savage screams, “Happiness in Slavery” is tied with “Wish” for the title of the EP’s standout song, and is probably its most recognizable.
The drifting ambiance that fills out the closing seconds of “Wish” is a brief respite before the Broken EP continues on with its rage-fuelled march with “Last”. Take heed and prepare yourself before pressing the “Play” button: “Last” is loud. A seemingly impossibly huge wall of guitars slams against the ears the instant the song starts, and the onslaught scarcely relents until the track finishes.