Nine Inch Nails for neophytes

A friend asked me today for my recommendations as to the ideal starting point for someone dipping a toe into the extensive Nine Inch Nails back catalogue. Aware of just how huge a question this is, I’ve compiled a blog post on the subject. As a disclaimer, the recommendations are my personal opinion only – I’m sure other NIN fans have wildly different favourites to me!

The NIN back catalogue is a pretty vast and diverse thing, from the dark, catchy industrial rock of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ to the occasionally ambient electronica of ‘The Slip’ via the monstrous, grungy techno-metal of ‘The Downward Spiral’. With that in mind, I’ve picked a few of my personal favourites to illustrate the sheer variety of NIN sounds and incarnations.

‘Head Like A Hole’, from debut album ‘Pretty Hate Machine’. The first NIN song I ever heard, and an excellent, straightforward industrial rock tune.

‘The Perfect Drug’, from the soundtrack to David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’. Apparently this is one of Reznor’s least favourite NIN tracks but it’s worth a mention for the thundering drum n bass influence, the understated aggression and the sheer catchiness.

‘Piggy’, from ‘The Downward Spiral’. Encapsulates that low-key, almost sleazy sense of menace imbued in so many NIN songs, and also provides the first example of the recurrent leitmotif used throughout ‘The Downward Spiral’ – it was a bit of a magical moment for me, realising just how many songs featured that leitmotif.

‘In This Twilight’ from ‘Year Zero’. A much later track than the above, but one of my favourites. Lyrically, I think it’s superb. And I love the soaring chorus, punctuated with fuzzy electronic beats and artifacts – giving the song a certain loose, unfinished feel that works perfectly.

‘The Fragile’ from the album of the same name. Reznor is extremely good at aggression, and at slow menace, but personally I think he’s at his best when he’s exploring his more melodic, melancholy side. ‘The Fragile’ is delicate and beautiful. (I love NIN’s ambient interludes too – ‘A Warm Place‘ perhaps being my favourite of these)

‘The Day The World Went Away’ (specifically, in this case, the version from ‘Still’) another melodic, melancholy track (I’ve heard it referred to as ‘shoegaze’) One thing I love about the melodic tracks is the very simple, very effective use of piano – there’s nothing overly technical about it but it’s perfectly placed.

‘The Hand That Feeds’ from ‘With Teeth’ – arguably one of the more commercial songs by NIN, but who cares? It’s a brilliant, foot-stomping bit of alt-rock-electro-pop.

‘Closer’ from ‘The Downward Spiral’. You know this song. I know this song. Don’t listen to it in polite company.

‘Hurt’ from ‘The Downward Spiral’. The Johnny Cash version is probably better known now, but the original is superb too – there’s a very tangible sense of fragility and vulnerability which makes it a somewhat uncomfortable listening experience, but also highly emotional and, for me at least, profoundly affecting.

‘Satellite’ from ‘Hesitation Marks’. From the most recent album, something almost funky, with a hip-hop esque beat and brilliant latter half.

‘Wish’ – sheer, driving aggression and fucking brilliant.

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