15 - 11
(The Downward Spiral, 1994)
Nobody really talks about “Ruiner”, and I’m not really sure why. It’s epic, anxious and soulful without even trying too hard. Maybe people are quick to dismiss it, since it is yet another song on The Downward Spiral that seems to be written about Reznor’s dick , but the fact remains, it is one of the most fearless songs on the album, and also contains one of NIN’s best guitar solos. “Ruiner” never gives us time to breathe, and while this overt willingness to shift wildly from section to section may be alienating in nature, I’m still pretty certain it will go down as a prime example of Reznor at his creative peak.
(With Teeth, 2005)
Now this is what I was hoping Reznor would give us when he promised us a “punch in the face” when it came to the sound/approach of With Teeth. We never really did get that, but “The Line Begins to Blur” is the closest thing on this album. It sort of comes out of nowhere, and before we know it, we are getting completely beat up by the distorted groove. There’s no reason “TLBTB” really should work, since it doesn’t really evolve into anything. But it bravely stays its brutal course, and somehow we all come out the wiser.
(The Downward Spiral, 1994)
This is not Johnny Cash’s song, OK? He didn’t reclaim it, or any of that nonsense. A cover song by nature cannot better the original version, since it wouldn’t fucking exist without the original version. That’s just a fact. Cash did a good job, but it’s not his song, it’s not his words; it’s just a cover. Cash has no stake in “Hurt”; it is, and will forever be, Trent Reznor’s.
Now that I got that off my chest, “Hurt” is an amazing, haunting effort. Truthfully there isn’t a lot to be critical of when it comes to this track. No line is wasted; no note is unneeded. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the final notes will carve their way into your psyche without mercy.
(Lost Highway soundtrack, 1997)
There’s a decent chance I’ll get drawn and quartered for including this, especially when you consider me ranking it ahead of NIN staples like “Head Like a Hole” and “Hurt”. Even Reznor hates the thing (to this day it has not been played live). But if you ignore the overly dramatic video, and Trent’s damning analysis, I still maintain it represents a totally mutant and adventurous track that doesn’t adhere to the unwritten “rules” of so many previous NIN efforts previous to this. The stop-start chorus sounds like nothing else in their catalogue, and the drum ‘n bass focus really works within the context of what he’s trying to do here.
“The Perfect Drug” is his bastard soundtrack son he wants to disown, and while he may despise it, I really believe it represents a very fleeting period in his life where he was OK with doing something drastically different with the NIN moniker. It doesn’t sound like NIN—and by extension, it doesn’t sound like Reznor—but to me that’s a good thing.
(Year Zero, 2007)
This will be the last inclusion off Year Zero. I don’t feel any of the tracks on that record could be justified being included in the top ten of NIN’s all-time best songs. Having said that, as a conceptual record it works really brilliantly, but the songs sort of depend on each other, like in any good concept album. As a result of this, I feel I’m being pretty generous putting “My Violent Heart” at number 11.
To me, there is a lot of good material on Year Zero, but “My Violent Heart” represents the first real moment since The Fragile where Reznor sounds supremely confident he can still fuck up a studio with the best of them. It’s impossible to hear the searing chorus and not be reminded why NIN was so quick to enter our hearts years ago: unrelenting aural pressure accompanied by “On hands and knees we crawl / You cannot stop us all / Our bones, our skin / We will not let you in!” Oh man. At that moment I was sold that he was still one of the best sonic architects working today, and not just some guy now content to spend his days writing songs on a laptop. That stern reminder made a real impression on me, and was probably the last NIN song released that was fueled purely by such effective vitriol.