Music

Caught in the Machine: Nine Inch Nails - "Pinion" and "Wish"

“This is the first day / Of my last days." Nine Inch Nails' 1992 EP begins by gradually building up tension, then releasing it in caustic (yet controlled) outbursts that earned the act a Grammy Award.


Nine Inch Nails

Broken

Label: TVT
US Release Date: 1992-09-22
UK Release Date: 1992-09-29
Amazon
iTunes

Even working within the constraints of the EP format’s short runtime, Trent Reznor takes pains to open Broken with a sense of occasion. The first track is “Pinion”, a scant one minute and three seconds of an ascending guitar pattern gradually increasing in volume. When described that way, it doesn’t sound very exciting. That’s because “Pinion” is meant to be listened to, preferably with headphones on in order to appreciate the ambient noises that are also percolating in the background, slowly building up body and dread. The guitars are heavily processed and most likely sampled -- note the disjointed quality of the chords, which is audible evidence of digital cut-and-pasting.


Knowing Reznor, the stilted and artificial quality of the guitar pattern is deliberate. “Pinion" is a mood-setter, and what it is setting up is squirming, uncomfortable tension. “Pinion" also plays a cruelly clever volume trick -- it starts out stupidly quiet and increases in loudness both gradually and in great fits, which surely vexes any listeners trying to settle on a comfortable setting on the volume knob throughout its duration. In the track’s final seconds, the guitars attain peak loudness, with all other previously present sounds silenced by the magnitude of their presence. Though nothing harmonically has changed, the dynamic contrast is startling; if Broken hadn’t garner your attention in the preceding minute, it has now.

As suddenly as the flick of a switch, “Pinion" cuts out and the volume shrinks back down, and the former’s guitar motif is seamlessly replaced with a stop-start mechanical hum and drum pattern with a noticeably high BPM number. It’s time for “Wish", one of the EP’s singles as well as one of its standouts. Even divorced from “Pinion", “Wish" takes pent-up tension and vents it in searing micro-outbusts with machine-like precision; it’s fitting that its music video features Reznor and his backing band being swarmed by an unruly mob of humanity barely contained by metal bars. Reznor could have made “Wish" into an all-out assault (certainly, its most aggressive moments are so forceful they are almost physically absorbed), but instead he used his skills as an arranger to thread interesting details and clever touches throughout. The music drops out for a beat at key moments when Reznor wants to emphasize something (such as a transition or a particular obscenity), instruments come and go when needed for texture (note Martin Atkins’ live drums in the second verse), and the song shifts into half-time for part of its choruses to lend the sections’ crushing heaviness extra wallop.


“This is the first day / Of my last days." Trent Reznor’s very first words on Broken are immediately answered by a fit of loud, gurgling guitars. If Nine Inch Nails fans back in 1992 had not had a chance to see the act live yet, they were in for a rude surprise if they were expecting a retread of Pretty Hate Machine’s synth-dominated approach. The label “alternative metal" was only beginning to be thrown around back then, but the thrashing power chord riffs and pummeling drums of “Wish" placed it comfortably under that heading. Reznor utters only his first couplet with any sense of restraint; from then on, he screams his self-flagellating lyrics with all the bile he can muster. Surely, “Wish" is one of the virulent expressions of guilt and self-loathing to ever be committed to tape. “I put my faith in God / And my trust in you / Now there’s nothing more fucked up I can do", “I’m the one without a soul / I’m the one with this big fucking hole", “You know me, I hate everyone" -- If you couldn’t tell, Trent is tad upset at letting someone down. Looking at the lyrics to “Wish" (or most any Nine Inch Nails song, it must be said), it might be tempting to view Reznor’s words as overwrought adolescent angst. Yet placed within the context of the music, they take on an undeniable power; nothing else could hold its own amongst the onslaught he has constructed. The song concludes with his screaming being overwhelmed by additional layers of raging guitars, which then abruptly cut out; all that remains in their wake is static-y ambience for the track’s final seconds.

"Wish" is ugly, brutal, confessional, and confrontational -- and it’s brilliant at it. In fact, the song earned Reznor his first Grammy Award in 1993, for Best Metal Performance. Though Reznor has been dismissive about the accolade -- judging by recent remarks, he considers the choice of category he was honored in idiotic -- it’s actually well-earned. “Wish" inaugurated the recorded debut of Nine Inch Nails as a full-on, heavy-and-hard rock outfit with unnerving intensity and potency. After hearing “Wish" a generation of hard rockers (fans and musicians alike) still coming to grips with grunge’s ascendancy immediately saw the light and knew that the ante has just been raised.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.