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Music

Caught in the Machine: Nine Inch Nails - "Physical (You're So)"

The first of two hidden tracks on the Broken EP delves into the dark past of some New Wave heroes.


Nine Inch Nails

Broken

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

Anger and frustration distilled into EP form, Broken certainly has no contenders for the title of the most direct Nine Inch Nails record. Yet the trim tracklist on the back cover doesn’t tell the whole story. Like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Broken is another early 1990s release that updates the oddball surprises that could be found on vinyl runout grooves for the CD age.

In the case of Broken, simply refrain from pressing the “Stop” button once “Gave Up” concludes and you’ll notice something odd: the CD player track numbers will increase second by second in complete silence. Once your media player reaches track 98, the first of two “hidden” cuts will emerge, a trudging cover of “Physical (You’re So)”.

“Physical (You’re So)” dates from the earliest incarnation of Adam and the Ants (then known as Adam and the Antz), before notorious manager Malcolm McLaren spun off three-fourths of the band to become Bow Wow Wow. What was the dark prince of industrial rock doing covering a song by New Romantic pop stars with a penchant for dressing like pirates? Though best known for triumphant hits “Stand and Deliver” and “Goody Two-Shoes”, the pre-schism Antz weren’t thematically far from Nine Inch Nails. Like NIN’s Trent Reznor, singer Adam Ant possessed a smoldering charisma, and the band’s glammy stomp and kinky fascinations understandably drew devotees from among those who would form the initial nucleus of the goth subculture. Listening to the seductive, halting grind of the original “Physical (You’re So)”, it becomes evident how it could find a welcoming home in the Nine Inch Nails songbook. Reznor’s tip of the hat to these half-forgotten New Wave stars was a brave move at a time when alternative musicians seemed to be trawling for credibility points with their hip choices of cover material.

Aside from the industrial trappings and the noticeably beefier guitars, the main difference between these recordings is the tone of the vocals. The Antz version is seductively playful; Adam Ant is practically pouting as he sings and squeals into the microphone. In comparison, Trent Reznor sings with the tortured, laborious breaths of someone desperate for release. It’s an approach that ties the cover closer to the EP’s greater themes of control and self-hatred, as well as perpetuates the sinister vibe that’s been running through the record even in its quieter moments. It also makes the song function as a labored five-minute dirge. Whether that’s your cup of tea depends on how much of a comedown you need once the main content of Broken wraps up.


Previous installments:

*Introduction

*"Pinion" and "Wish"

*"Last" and "Help Me I Am in Hell"

*"Happiness in Slavery"

*"Gave Up"

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