The nasty little piece of work that is the Broken EP ends with Trent Reznor bringing a previous side-project collaboration fully under the Nine Inch Nails umbrella.
After nearly a half-hour of industrial intensity (as well as a fake ending), Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP finally closes with a drastic reworking of “Suck”. Unlike Adam and the Antz’s “Physical (You’re So)”, it’s not quite accurate to call this take on the song a cover. NIN’s Trent Reznor actually recorded the original version of “Suck” with industrial collab Pigface for its 1991 album Gub.
The inclusion of “Suck” is a rather fitting conclusion to the EP. Due to contractual tangles with his label TVT at in the early 1990s, Reznor cut back on his musical output; the Pigface collaboration was one of the few exceptions in the period leading up to the unveiling of Broken. Now freed from TVT’s grasp and already signed up with a new label (Broken is actually stamped with both TVT and Interscope logos), Reznor reasserts control over his career, and, in what could interpreted be a final kiss-off to his old imprint, brings a song he recorded during Nine Inch Nails’ release moratorium squarely into the outfit’s oeuvre.
Lyrics aside, the two versions of “Suck” are drastically different songs. Pigface’s version revives the British post-punk aesthetic with its tribal drums and its sparse-yet-prominent bassline. Dark and spacious, it presages Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”. In contrast to Gub producer Steve Albini’s no-frills recording approach, the version on Broken is funkier and more full-bodied. A heavy processed melody appears at the start and reoccurs later in the song, and dynamic shifts (in tandem with raging guitars, instruments completely absent from the earlier incarnation) are utilized in order to give it a proper chorus. While the original take could be mistaken for some early 1980s obscurity, Nine Inch Nails’ version bears its unmistakable imprint.
Taken in isolation, Broken earns distinction for being such a nasty little piece of work. It hits hard, stays focused, relents only enough to give listeners a chance to catch their breath, and never wears out its welcome. Within the greater picture of the Nine Inch Nails discography, Broken’s stature becomes more pronounced. That is because in addition to its quality (it’s easily the equal of several NIN LPs), it’s the sound of Trent Reznor being inspired by an unquenchable fury to come into his own as an artist. Pretty Hate Machine and the first Lollapalooza tour set up Nine Inch Nails as an intriguing cult act. The snarling, uncompromising Broken gave notice to the mainstream that it was a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps more importantly, once Reznor got Broken out of his system, he strove to be more diverse and subtle on his subsequent effort. That record? His crowning achievement, 1994’s The Downward Spiral.