[19 January 2005]
Disillusioned. Disturbed. Pained. Aggressive.
These are the perfect adjectives to describe the masterful music made by Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, they also trace the arc of response to the latest offense propagated in the continual consumer assault of “commemorative”, “deluxe”, and “anniversary” albums, The Downward Spiral Deluxe Edition. From amongst the titillating titles of the second “bonus” disc (entitled “remixes, b-sides, demos, and non-album tracks”), only one of thirteen tracks is of any real value, namely the mechanized motor that propels “burn”. Past this initial offering, the alluring appeal of “disc two” quickly disintegrates into disappointment: alternate versions that differ only minimally from album takes, remixes of astounding mediocrity, and, worst of all, supposed “demos” that seem a little too much like finished tracks. The listening experience here is almost perfect parallel to the lyrical line that induces arson in the aforementioned “burn”: the aggravation at falling for a record company’s latest ruse (“well i don’t believe in your institutions / I did what you wanted me to”) leads quickly into a desire to burn the entire Deluxe Edition down.
Yes, the shameful behavior of record company execs out for a few quick bucks at the rabid fans’ expense could easily be subsumed by such Nine Inch Nails titles as “hurt”, “ruiner”, “liar”, and, most obviously, “heresy”. All of which, of course, says little about Trent Reznor or the phenomenal music he created ten years ago on his masterful The Downward Spiral. An alluring testimony to a world ever going wrong, never has enduring the burden of pain and self-doubt seemed more enjoyable than on the fourteen pieces of art whose individuality comprise the now remixed and remastered The Downward Spiral. Furthermore, especially in the retrospect afforded by the decade anniversary, never before has Nine Inch Nails’ sonic prescience seemed more avant-garde and awe-inspiring.
Ignoring the ignominy of the ignoble “disc two”, it becomes clear on a fresh listen to The Downward Spiral just how powerful are Reznor’s abilities behind the pen, the keyboard, the computer, and the mixer. I do not think it is an act of heresy to suggest that Reznor belongs in the pantheon of modern producers: perhaps only Phil Spector and Brian Wilson have set a higher bar for creating stunning and innovative scapes of sound. The booming hum of industry is made a perfect complement to a solitary piano in underscoring the pain of “hurt”; a falsetto croon about the failure of religion sounds perfectly at home in the techno-industrial dance number “heresy”; and the sounds Reznor peppers all over “mr self destruct” leave the listener wondering agape where a human being finds all this sonic material. Every track on the album is a highlight: “the downward spiral” itself is an eerily orchestrated piece of great beauty and hope (despite the buried screams that add to its texture), and “piggy” is perhaps the greatest build of a pop song since “Try A Little Tenderness”. From destructive start to hurtful finish, The Downward Spiral remains, ten years after, a major contribution to the world of popular music.
But The Downward Spiral Deluxe Edition is not: not a major contribution to the record-buying public (in fact, hardly a contribution at all, save the remastering work), not a real gift to die-hard fans, not worthy of purchasing in any way, shape, or form. If you’re a real audiophile who wants the new quality SACD version of the album without being bothered by those inappropriately titled “bonus” tracks, go out and buy the digi-pak of the remastered original album alone. If you’re new to NiN, go and buy a used, original copy of The Downward Spiral (which you’re sure to find on the shelves of used CD stores, now that suckers like me have “upgraded”.) But mostly, whatever your musical tastes and background, go out and find a copy of this album; listen to it, and enjoy it. The music and message might be disillusioned, disturbed, pained, and aggressive, but The Downward Spiral remains one of the premiere albums of the past decade.