Down in It

The 20 Best Nine Inch Nails Songs

by Jeffrey Thiessen

21 November 2012


10 - 6

10. “The Way Out Is Through”
(The Fragile, 1999)

Best opening NIN song by a country mile. It’s so good, I wish Reznor just axed “Somewhat Damaged” and allowed this to open both Fragile discs. As good as it is, I’m not sure it would have been nearly as powerful if it was placed anywhere but in the opening spot, so really that’s the only reason I couldn’t place it higher; it’s simply too contingent on placing. Thankfully Reznor put it in its correct position, and its sheer power is eclipsed by nothing in NIN’s catalogue.

9. “The Becoming”
(The Downward Spiral, 1994)

Much like “Ruiner”, for some reason this track really gets very little attention among NIN fans, and again, I’m confused as to why. If you take an objective look at “The Becoming” from a strictly musical stance, it is easily the strongest effort on The Downward Spiral. Reznor is on a whole different level when it comes to recording this song; it is as innovative as it is frightening. But perhaps more importantly, if you’re one of those types who is concerned with a concept album’s central focus, “The Becoming” represents the most crucial moment on the record. Everything here made everything else on the album make sense. Plus, it offers one of the best closing repetitive mantras on any NIN album (and God knows there is a ton of those): “Won’t give up / It wants me dead / Goddamn this noise inside my head.” I used to see those lines on t-shirts all the time in the ‘90s, and I always assumed that person was cooler than shit. I was probably right in hindsight.

8. “Gave Up”
(Broken EP, 1992)

Ah, I bet you thought I was gonna gloss over Broken completely eh? Broken is great. Broken is the angriest, most immediate NIN record you`ll ever encounter, and that`s not likely to change. Having said that, Broken is short, and two of the songs are so-so instrumentals. It`s probably the best example of how audibly vicious NIN had the potential to be, but knowing what we know about Reznor now, which is he’s a studio god, I don`t think it can be ranked among his best offerings, since it was fuelled strictly by rage and none of the real creative impulses we know he is obviously capable of.

“Gave Up”, if nothing else, represents the most uncontaminated ethos of the entire ‘90s Gen-X movement, or whatever the fuck you want to call a bunch of apathetic shitheads angry at something, but just not sure what. The anthemic chorus of “I tried / I gave up / I tried / And I gave up!” sums up the dull sound/fury of the ‘90s youth more poetically than anything I’ve heard. Plus it rocks, hard. Just not as hard as “Wish”, but more on that later.

7. “Closer”
(The Downward Spiral, 1994)

From a purely single standpoint, “Closer” was the craziest a-side successfully released in its era. It’s got this simplistic, sort of dirty Prince-type groove, and the catchiness survives only on Reznor explaining basically how he wants to go balls-deep into all of us. There is no way that he could’ve possibly imagined Interscope would’ve allowed it on the album, much less have it become a hit. But somehow both were achieved, and for that Trent, I salute you. It still sounds fresh, and every time I hear “Closer”, I’m still convinced we’re all destined to have you feel us from the inside.

6. “Terrible Lie”
(Pretty Hate Machine, 1989)

As you can probably tell by my placing, I hold “Terrible Lie” in much higher regard than its album-mate “Head Like a Hole”. To me, it basically asks the same questions as the much more famous “Head Like a Hole”, but is set up in a much more sustainable musical infrastructure. Basically what I’m saying is ‘“Terrible Lie” still rocks, and “Head Like a Hole” is more useful for archive studies in regards to NIN’s debut effort. It’s also important to note the last two minutes of this song rank among the best moments out of any NIN track, so I have no problem putting it on the cusp of the top five.

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