(Originally done on 11/3/00 but now re-edited and extended.)
In the history of rock n’ roll, there have been many bands and artists that have come and gone. In the 1950s, there was Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In the 60s, it was the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix that took over the music world while in the underground, bands like the Stooges, MC5, and the Velvet Underground made music for the outsiders. In the 70s, bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, Stones, Queen, and many more established rock bands were ruling the rock world while punk rockers like the Clash, the Ramones, and the Sex Pistols brought rock back to its roots and stripping it down. In the middle of those two worlds, people like David Bowie, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, and Iggy Pop went further into exploring the underground world while achieving some mainstream success.
In the 80s, rock music went downhill as new technology limited the ideas of what you can do with rock music on the mainstream world while underground bands like Sonic Youth, U2, R.E.M, New Order, the Smiths, the Cure, and many more underground bands went against the grain to make rock music exciting again for the next decade. In the 1990s, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and many more bands broke through to give rock music its edge and at the same time, make it important again. Another band from the 1990s was a Cleveland-based group led by a young man from Mercer, Pennsylvania who completely went against the grain of rock n’ roll by blending electronic minimalism, quirky pop hooks, and abrasive metal guitar riffs. The band was called Nine Inch Nails (NIN) and their leader was Trent Reznor.
Throughout their thirteen years of recording, NIN was one of the more interesting and original rock groups of its time. Led by mastermind Trent Reznor, NIN helped bring industrial music to the masses while blending with it elements of pop, art-rock, and minimalism. From the first single Down In It to the upcoming live collection And All That Could Have Been, Nine Inch Nails made an outlet for not only bring rock music to a disaffected youth but making the music smart and challenging to its audience. With the release of the upcoming live album and DVD, I, thevoid99, will be remaking every NIN review through discography order while telling the history of NIN from its beginnings to present time. Welcome to NIN month and let’s begin the story along with a review of the first single “Down In It”.
Michael Trent Reznor was born on May 17, 1965 in Mercer Pennsylvania. Throughout his young life, Reznor had a difficult childhood especially with the divorce of his parents Michael Sr. and Nancy Reznor at age five shortly after the birth of his sister Tara. Trent was then sent to live with his grandparents Bill and Clara Clark who taught the young child how to play piano and by his pre-teen years, had become a classically trained pianist who also played saxophone. Of course, living in a town like Mercer didn’t have much to offer for Reznor and he didn’t fit in with many kids in school even though he was in the school band in his school years and did some acting in school plays where he was famous for playing the role of Judas in the production of Jesus Christ Superstar and was voted “Best in Drama” by his classmates.
While he achieved those things, it didn’t please him enough until his teens when he was introduced to the world of rock music. Bands like Pink Floyd, Kiss along with great solo artists like Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie is what got him into rock music. The theatrics of Kiss, Cooper, and Floyd gave him the idea of the “bigger than life” aspect while Iggy Pop and Lou Reed gave elements of the world of the street and Pink Floyd and its leader and lyricist Roger Waters explored the world of alienation and madness. Then there was Bowie. Bowie helped present an outsider’s view of alienation, self-destruction, and madness along with theatrics and views of reality that attracted Reznor especially with the trilogy Bowie made with Brian Eno in the late 70s of Low, “Heroes", and Lodger that helped pushed electronic minimalism into the rock world.
After a year of college in Allegheny, Reznor left college to pursue music in Cleveland in the early and mid-1980s. Music in the 1980s, mainstream wise, was very predictable and tepid where everyone played to a drum machine and it had to have a huge production that included synthesizers, drum machines, and everything else in order to make a great pop tune. While those elements made rock music less interesting, there were groups like the Human League, Depeche Mode, and New Order that helped pushed electronic music further into pop territories while being experimental like in the post-punk days of the late 70s. Another world in electronic music was a new scene that took electronic music to a more brutal and abrasive approach known as Industrial.
Industrial music is a blend of rock and electronic music that featured pre-recorded drum and synthesizer tracks along with dance beats and avant-garde musical elements. There were several acts that helped originate the genre that included Germany’s Einsturzende Neubauten, England’s Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, Canada’s Skinny Puppy, and the most famous of all industrial groups from Chicago, Illinois, Ministry. Ministry ended up making the genre acceptable to the underground level when they added metal guitars into the mix to make the genre more abrasive and brutal than many sub genres in the underground level.
After being attracted by the industrial genre, Reznor went head on into the genre and tried to find several bands that sounded like Ministry or Skinny Puppy in Cleveland. He ended up joining an electronic outfit the Exotic Birds with friend and drummer Chris Vrenna where the two shared a passion for industrial music. In 1988, Reznor and Vrenna quit the exotic birds to form their project. Reznor by that time was starting to write his own music and with Vrenna on his side, Nine Inch Nails was born.
For that entire year, Reznor created demos with Chris Vrenna’s help and tried to give the demos away to several record companies with the help of his manager John Malm Jr. Finally, Reznor caught a break with the label TVT Records that had help sell records for the industrial label Wax Trax Records. Reznor signed with TVT and helped created his very first album with the help of producers John Fryer (who had worked with the Cocteau Twins, Love & Rockets, and was the creative producer behind the three classic albums by This Mortal Coil), Flood (who would work with acts like Depeche Mode, U2, and Smashing Pumpkins), and electronic music producers Keith LeBlanc and Adrian Sherwood. There is where the first chapter of the NIN saga officially begins with the first release of the NIN single Down In It.
The single for Down In It is a three-song maxi-single that featured the original track that would appear in the album version along with a couple of remixes. Though the song remains a classic among NIN fans, Reznor today will no longer play the song since it now lacks meaning to him. At the time, the song had different meanings where Trent said it was a love song in an old interview but the lyrics of the song kind of interprets a suicide wish which is why it caused some controversy with MTV when the video was presented to them. It’s mix of industrial music and catchy pop hooks is what helped shaped the sound of NIN and what made them different from most bands. While Reznor always cited bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy as influences, he admits that his pop influences came from the synth-pop bands he loved in the 80s along with the quirky underground pop of XTC and the brilliant funk-pop styles of Prince. In the end, Down In It (the single is labeled as “halo one” along with several records that would labeled “halo” with a number to mark the order of each release) becomes a NIN classic.
The first track is the original song though it’s labeled as (skin) but it’s the same version that many people hear on the radio, MTV, and on the Pretty Hate Machine album. The song starts off with distorted and quiet drum machine tracks for about a few seconds until a louder and more danceable drum machine beats come in along with a flurry of synthesizers as Trent Reznor sings the opening lyrics to the song “Kinda like a cloud/I was way up in the sky/and I was feeling some feelings you wouldn’t believe/Sometimes I don’t believe them myself/and I decided I was never coming down/Just a tiny little dot/caught my eye it was just about too small to see/but I watched it way too long/and that dot was pulling me down”. The synthesizer tracks are dissonant and atmospheric to help carry Reznor’s mood of disillusionment and despair as he sings the chorus of “I was up above it/(repeat)/Now I’m down in it” where there are distorted keyboard breaks of distorted vocal parts and charging guitar assaults.
The second verse starts where Reznor says “Shut up so what/What does it matter now/I was swimming in the haze now I crawl on the ground/And everything I liked about you is kind of seeping into me/Try to laugh about it now/isn’t it funny how everything works out/(“I guess the joke was on me,” she said)” and then comes the angry chorus along with maniacal synthesizer solo and Reznor’s angst-ridden lyrics of “I used to be so big and strong/I used to know from right from wrong/I used to never be afraid/I used to be somebody/I used to have something inside/Now just this hole that’s open wide/I used to want it all/I used to be somebody” that shows Reznor’s pain and anguish over his own feelings of alienation and despair. The song gets darker along with the lyrics as Reznor explain further into his own dark world.
Of course for many industrial fans that have heard a lot of albums from many industrial bands, Down In It to some was considered a rip-off of the Skinny Puppy single Dig It that featured the similar guitar breaks along with dissonant synthesizers and distorted drum machine tracks. In some ways, it was a rip-off and Reznor admitted that it was a rip-off of the Skinny Puppy song but the difference was that Trent used simple pop music structures of verse/chorus/verse as opposed to Skinny Puppy’s abrasive and untraditional approach. Though it’s hard to tell which are the better songs, both bands each made classics on those singles.
The remixes of Down In It are both remixed by the production duo of Adrian Sherwood and Keith LeBlanc that each features the talents of the duo when it comes to production and remixing. The first remix titled “(shred)” is really an extended seven minute mix that features an added instrumental track after the song that takes the drum tracks from the song and put it in the mix for a few more minutes along with added keyboard tracks that fades away ever ten to twenty seconds with repeated vocals of Reznor singing the chorus. The third and final track known as “(singe)” is another seven-minute mix that removes the vocal tracks of the verses and instead, it becomes mostly an instrumental track of the songs drum and synthesizer tracks along with its mixes of the chorus where Reznor repeats the words “above it” and the instrumental breaks last for a few minutes with its synthesizers and drum machine tracks that are done very well by Sherwood and LeBlanc.
Then there was the infamous video for Down In It. What made the video infamous wasn’t because of its content where Reznor is depicted of being dead at the end but the footage that was found by the FBI. The video did cause some controversy when it was presented to MTV due to the depiction of Reznor’s death where the song was considered a suicide song and shouldn’t be shown on MTV but the video was re-edited for MTV without showing that infamous footage. During the making of that video, the camera where it was attached to a balloon where the balloon ran out of air and dropped very fast and the video makers thought the camera was broken anyways. Sometime later, a farmer found the camera and contacted the FBI about the footage where the rumor was that Trent Reznor really died until some fan said he saw him in Cleveland and Reznor was forced to fly to Chicago to prove to the FBI that he’s alive.
The only cons for the Down In It besides the fact that it’s short and it’s a single is that the record was targeted more towards industrial music fans upon its release and today, it’s something hardcore NIN fans have picked up. In comparison to the rest of the singles, Down In It is a very good single that has its moments and does serve as a good introduction to those who are interested in the singles NIN have released. This single should be owned if you’re a hardcore NIN fan like myself.
Pretty Hate Machine/Broken Era (1989-1992): halo 2 - halo 3 - halo 4 - halo 5 - halo 6
The Downward Spiral Era (1994-1997): halo 7 - halo 8 - halo 8 DE - halo 9 - halo 10 - halo 11 - halo 12
The Fragile Era (1999-2002): halo 13 - halo 14 - halo 15.1 - halo 15.2 - halo 15.3 - halo 16 - halo 17 DE - halo 17 DVD
With Teeth/Year Zero Era: halo 18 - halo 19 - halo 20 - halo 21 - halo 22 - halo 23 - halo 24 - halo 25
Ghosts I-IV/The Slip Era (2008): halo 26 - halo 27
Soundtracks/Miscellaneous: (The Crow) - (Natural Born Killers) - (Lost Highway) - (Tomb Raider) - (The Limitless Potential) - (Strobe Light)
Promos: (seed 1) - (seed 2) - (seed 3) - (seed 4) - (seed 5) - (seed 6)
Live Shows: (NIN/Bauhaus/TV on the Radio-6/7/06 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater) - (NIN/Deerhunter-8/13/08 Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena) - (NIN/Jane's Addiction/Street Sweeper Social Club-5/10/09 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater)