Nine Inch Nails and Coil: Recoiled

[11 April 2014]

By J.C. Macek III

The Downward Recoil

Coil was an immensely influential industrial music band since the inception of the genre. This makes it no surprise that Nine Inch Nails’ front-man (and arguable only “real” member) Trent Reznor long cited Coil as a major influence on his music. That influence, of course, spreads to many other bands, from Aphex Twin to Chris Connelly to K.K. Null and the band How To Destroy Angels (which was named after a Coil song).

The many tributes to Coil have been posthumous, as both members, John “Jhonn” Balance and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson have passed away from… this mortal coil. That said, the ripples and echoes of Coil are still being felt to the point that a Nine Inch Nails Remix album by Coil would certainly be in demand, had Jhonn and Sleazy survived. Lucky for fans of both bands, the Coil duo actually completed five NIN remixes that were long relegated to be the stuff of rumors and legends until members of a dedicated NIN fan forum tracked down the tracks.

The result is Recoiled, an EP that collects all five of these remixes into one impressive (if somewhat brief) collection. The results are often unrecognizable from the original versions. This might be an absolute treasure trove for fans and an incredible rarity to come across had it not been for the Recoiled EP’s origins, that being an internet discover that has been available via bootleg (and YouTube) since at least 2013 (often with the title Uncoiled). That said, true fans will find a lot to appreciate, even as Coil deviates greatly from the original Trent Reznor vision of these songs.

The first track is also among the most divergent. This new version of “Gave Up” (retitled “Gave up (Open My Eyes))” begins with an echoing, quietly mechanical interpretation of “Pinion” (which precedes the original version of “Gave Up” on the 1992 Broken EP). “Gave Up” was among the songs that signaled Reznor’s less electronic and pop oriented approach to music (as heard on NIN’s debut album Pretty Hate Machine) and embraced a more heavy, guitar-based sound (to the point that two other tracks from Broken, “Wish” and “Happiness in Slavery” won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1993 and 1995, respectively). However, the guitars (synthesized or otherwise) on the “Open my Eyes” version do not kick in until a full one minute and forty seconds into the song’s six minute runtime. Until then, Coil weaves a loose tapestry of ambient sounds, keyboards and industrial noises over Reznor’s distant and oft drowned-out vocals. Even before the guitar work begins, Coil replaces the drum sounds with electronic percussion that would be catchy and danceable if it weren’t so scattershot and relentless. While “Gave Up (Open My Eyes)” is a rick and technically proficient mix, the song also (probably quite intentionally) fails to ever become “catchy” and adheres closely to the same style of its intro, mostly distant and discordant. It is a credit to the members of Coil that a song can have this many levels fighting with each other and remain such a listenable track.

I stress that “Gave Up (Open My Eyes)” is among the most divergent tracks, because its immediate successor, “Closer (Unrecalled)” often sounds about as much like “Closer” from The Downward Spiral” as Godzilla sounds like Pavarotti. Like the first track, “Closer (Unrecalled)” begins with electronic, industrial and ambient sounds with light keyboard; however, unlike its predecessor, this second song never quite wades out of the murky abyss that Coil has made of it. There are occasional echoes of the music that made “Closer” arguably Nine Inch Nails’ best known song; however, “Closer (Unrecalled)” doesn’t truly become recognizable until the grinding noises give way to Reznor’s voice crooning the familiar verses, bridge and chorus. Interestingly, when the layers of noise are stripped away in favor of actual instruments to accompany Reznor’s voice, “Closer (Unrecalled)” becomes something that the original version was never quite intended to be: beautiful. The final notes that close the original version of the song are converted into melodic string chords that end “Closer (Unrecalled)” in a symphonic and remarkably different way, both from the original and from the expected.

Those final notes of “Closer” show up again (much closer to their original form) as a leitmotif in the next remix called “The Downward Spiral (A Gilded Sickness)”. This version of Reznor’s darkest suicide song (a distinction that is noteworthy) also deviates from the original, but the original version is such a dark and avant garde construct anyway, that the changes here fit so perfectly that musically this could be the same song. The vocals sound as if they are being mumbled through an AM radio down the hallway, and as the sparse guitar takes over in its slow, casual strumming, the song begins to feel like the soundtrack for a horror film. The final two minutes of this song continue this unidentifiably creepy feel with the “Closer” closing notes battling with growling static and creepy noises you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley (or haunted house for that matter).

The EP ends with not one, but two versions of “Eraser”. The first version, “Eraser (Reduction)” lives up to both its title and subtitle as if the Coilers boiled away most of The Downward Spiral’s “Eraser” to its bare, fierce elements, negating every note that didn’t fit into the Coil. “Eraser (Reduction)” is less a song than a collection of discordant notes that have been shaken, stirred, and spilled across a toolbox full of noises. This is only broken by Reznor’s voice reciting a dark list of desires from the original song’s lyrics “Need you. Dream you. Find you. Taste you. Fuck you. Use you. Scar you. Break you”. before the track sinks back into the roiling depths of the main “music”. The overall sound is impressive, but at almost nine minutes long, its welcome is outweighed.

“Eraser (Baby Alarm Remix)” is the final track and largely feels like a repeat of the previous version with the notable exception that this remix contains actual percussion and melodic guitars thrown in for a much more “musical” listen. However, “Eraser (Baby Alarm Remix)” also clocks in at almost nine minutes long, making for almost 18 minutes of the same song at the end of an album (a feat few bands outside of Pink Floyd can make worthwhile).

Those Nine Inch Nails and Coil fans who prefer a physical CD for the packaging or question the clarity of streaming audio will surely want to pick up this Recoiled CD to hear the furious merger of these two industrial pioneers. In truth, however, like most “remix” records, Recoiled’s content, while interesting and proficient, never quite matches up to the fullness and fascination of the original versions.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/180278-nine-inch-nails-and-coil-recoiled/