Corrine Schiavone

Every Nine Inch Nails Album Ranked

Every Nine Inch Nails Album Ranked

 

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From the post-adolescent rage of Pretty Hate Machine, to the political rage of Year Zero, to the impending middle-age rage of Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails’s catalogue presents a musical map of Trent Reznor’s psyche over the course of the last three decades. If the exorcizing of his demons feels, by this point, almost performative, he’s diversified the NIN sound enough that even the most seemingly regressive sonic tangent somehow sounds fresh. The band’s latest album, Bad Witch, is more of an EP (Reznor admitted the decision to call it an “album” was a calculated one, since EPs tend to “get lost”), but however you choose to classify it, we’re celebrating the release of Halo 32 by taking a look back at Reznor and company’s catalogue and ranking all nine of their releases from worst to best. Sal Cinquemani
 

Every Nine Inch Nails Album Ranked

9

The Slip (2008)

The underlying pop sensibility of Reznor’s music, even in his most aggressive work, has been slowly stripped away over the years. Individual songs on The Slip aren’t particularly dynamic. The album has two levels: loud (“1,000,000” features all the chainsaw- and motorcycle engine-guitars we’ve come to expect from NIN) and soft (“Lights in the Sky” is a tuneless, minimalist piano dirge). One of the few exceptions is “Corona Radiata,” which slowly builds from spacey arpeggios and planetarium atmospherics to a quiet storm of ambient house beats and distant guitar drones. Reznor’s stunted self-deprecation grew tired years ago, but his latter-day output has ventured into politics and more grown-up existential examinations. “Letting You” addresses the “politics of greed,” with lots of smoke stacks, black skies, and civil complacency, but he’s recorded this song before, and more sardonically. Cinquemani

Every Nine Inch Nails Album Ranked

8

With Teeth (2005)

By 2005, the long gaps between each new Nine Inch Nails album made Reznor’s shtick stick, even while the lapse in time magnified the adolescence of his angst and upped the musical stakes to heights he could never reach. And on With Teeth, he didn’t even seem to try. Instead, he sounds content with self-satisfaction, only subtly aware of what’s going on in the world outside his studio. There are hints at evolution: In the midst of the new new wave, it wasn’t surprising to hear Reznor fall back on his synth-pop past, from “All the Love in the World,” with its house-y second half, to lead single “The Hand That Feeds,” which harks back to the pop sensibility of Pretty Hate Machine. If nothing else, it was refreshing to hear him singing falsetto. Cinquemani

Every Nine Inch Nails Album Ranked

7

Ghosts I—IV (2008)

A collection of 36 untitled instrumental tracks split across four nine-track EPs, Ghosts I-IV is often described as Reznor’s ambient album. But many of these soundscapes—particularly the grinding, overdriven likes of “08” and “24”–are too fitful and noisy to meet Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music: “as ignorable as it is interesting.” More accurately, then, Ghosts is Reznor’s beat tape: a distillation of the clattering drum-machine rhythms, ear-rending guitar noise, and elegiac piano passages that have been NIN’s bread and butter, unmoored from the demands of pop structure and the increasingly confining grimness of his lyrical voice. Of course, the project also serves as a preview of Reznor’s soundtrack work with Atticus Ross (both “14” and “35” would be remixed for David Fincher’s The Social Network). Viewed on its own merits, Ghosts is nothing more or less than a testament to Reznor’s legacy as one of the most influential sonic stylists of the last 30 years. Zachary Hoskins

Every Nine Inch Nails Album Ranked

6

Bad Witch (2018)

Mutation as a theme has always rippled through Reznor’s songwriting, and his most recent work finds him shifting emphasis from personal to social forms of transformation and decay. The singer may have once fixated on frenzied individual self-destruction, but with Nine Inch Nails’s ninth album, Bad Witch—a six-track, 30-minute release that’s technically part of a recent trilogy of EPs—he wrestles with his dismay over being part of a depraved culture that’s showing signs of impending collapse. While 2016’s Not the Actual Events explores dissociative identities and 2017’s Add Violence brims with paranoia about our increasingly simulated reality, Bad Witch moves past such insular anxieties and more directly acknowledges that society’s chaos is the result of our collective hubris. Reznor blames the exponential advancement of technology for magnifying humanity’s basest impulses. An ineffable—yet relatable—sense of unease drives home the album’s exploration of confronting a once familiar environment rendered alien and grotesque. Josh Goller

Every Nine Inch Nails Album Ranked

5

Hesitation Marks (2013)

What are hesitation marks but a tangible reminder of a very specific, very painful failure? Death invites closure and acceptable answers. Living holds the door open to questions and decay. Reznor’s first-person characterizations of passive victimhood in the past almost always at least used threats as evidence of agency. Here his comparatively muted tone suggests a willing capitulation. In almost every way, this is the least outré effort NIN has proffered since Pretty Hate Machine. It’s focused but inquisitive, as opposed to declarative. “How did we get so high?” a disillusioned Reznor asks at the climax of “All Time Low,” not so much marveling at any current experience as he is interested in receiving a reminder from whoever has the road map. But more so than anything from Reznor’s own back catalogue, Hesitation Marks’s congregation of belatedly encroaching pre-dotage and the reflexive drive for relapse that accompanies it feels reminiscent of Prince’s The Black Album, or rather a mirror image of it wherein its creator struggles to play by the rules to appease external demons. Even perusing the titles of Hesitation Marks—“Various Methods of Escape,” “Disappointed,” “While I’m Still Here,” “Came Back Haunted”—invokes feelings of knowing pity. No longer a “Big Man with a Gun,” Reznor’s approach is now irreversibly utilitarian. Eric Henderson

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