A Quick Look at Nine Inch Nails' "Pretty Hate Machine" At 34

Kevin Alexander

Revisiting the groundbreaking industrial band’s debut record on the 33rd anniversary of it's release.

Cover art for Nine Inch Nail's 1989 Pretty Hate Machine record.Gary Talpas

My junior high school was a hothouse.

It had low ceilings and few windows (this was intentional- it was intended as a security measure). The few that did exist were of the reinforced variety. It didn’t feel safe, it felt like we were in County. And it was overcrowded.

So crowded in fact, that they had to add 2 extra minutes of passing time between periods because of the human gridlock.

My friends and I used that time in traffic to swap mixtapes, talk about bands, and whatever else 14-year-olds do. The highest mark a band could get was being shared with an excited “skip class & listen to this.” It was our own nerdy way of telling the recipient to drop everything and check it out; this band is special. I should note here that none of us actually skipped class (yet). That came later. Nevertheless…

And so it was in A-hall that I had a copy of this record pressed into my hands with those famous last words. I waited until the bus ride home to put it in my Walkman (related: I’m old).

It didn’t take long for Pretty Hate Machine to rearrange my mind.

Favorite tracks

Sin: Far and away my favorite track on the record. The beat is relentless and never lets you catch your breath. It’s desperate and danceable all at once.

Head Like a Hole: Easily some of the mist visceral lyrics on an album full of them. When Reznor screams “I’d rather die than give you control,” you feel it.

Least Favorite:

Something I Can Never Have: It’s not that I don’t like this — it’s just as introspective as anything else here— it just slower than the songs before it. Kinda like how driving on a surface street feels right after getting off the freeway.

Ringfinger: Meh.

Rolling Stone described the band this way:

Nine Inch Nails’ sound is dominated by clanging synths and sardonic, shrieking vocals. But Reznor stretches that industrial-strength noise over a pop framework, and his harrowing but catchy music has taken the college charts by storm.

In 1989, the music world was a crowded space. Even in the alternative and/or industrial genres, it was hard to stand out. But this record did and does. It took the college charts by storm, and my group of friends were along for the ride.


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Sharing life in Flyover Country a few hundred words at a time.

Madison, WI

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