Nine Inch Nails
Pretty Hate Machine: 2010 Remaster

During a recent conversation with a friend, he lamented that the end of any band being cool was when suburban girls started listening to them. As a teen in suburban Cleveland in the early ’90s, I suppose I was responsible for the death knell of many bands, especially when “alternative” music was suddenly cool. I traded in my pointy metal boots for Doc Martens and my Skid Row and Poison concert shirts for Cure apparel—and the Nine Inch Nails logo on t-shirts, the bumper of my ’85 Crown Victoria and pretty much every notebook I owned.

Pretty Hate Machine was one of the albums all ’90s alterna-teens were required to own (along with Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and of course, Nirvana’s Nevermind). Before the internet, many of these were purchased together from the BMG Music Service or Columbia House for a penny. These albums were a starter kit of sorts; eventually, we veered off into sub-genres, as some people invested in thrift flannels and babydoll grungewear, and others painted punk band logos on their leather jackets.

For some, like myself, Trent Reznor’s angst-ridden, dark industrial sound resonated most, reflected by wearing all black for the next decade or so. It was the first time the industrial Cleveland wasteland backdrop to Reznor’s fury reached my suburban conscious just a few miles away. Pretty Hate Machine was a soundtrack of sorts to many people’s teenage years, unwittingly influencing many decisions to come. For me, it’s the soundtrack to the summer I painted all my bedroom furniture black, and Trent Reznor is the reason why I am not an organ donor. The day I finally got my driver’s license in 1994, I was in a hurry to buy tickets to the band’s show with Hole and Marilyn Manson and didn’t want to slow down my race to nearby Camelot Music with an argument with my ultra-Catholic mom.

But Pretty Hate Machine, while nostalgic, once didn’t hold up like so many other albums of the time, as well as Nine Inch Nail’s later records. If one were to listen to that CD just 10 years after its release, it sounded dated, tinny and sparse. Reznor had recorded it pretty much on his own, in a Cleveland studio in the late ’80s—and it sounded like it. The album had been so revolutionary at the time, but electronic-based music progressed, leaving only Reznor’s raw vocal fury intact.

But the newly released remastered version sounds like that first euphoric time you slid the cassette tape into your boombox. It brings back the rush you had when you were 15 and felt like someone finally understood you. The first strains of “Head Like a Hole” sound ominous again, as if you don’t know Reznor is going to assert that he’d rather die than give you control. Many of the ingenious sounds that were washed out on the original recording are brought back to the forefront. Gone is the uneven quality that plagued those old cassettes and CDs. Though all tracks benefit from this reissue, it’s most evident in the crisp basslines of “Sanctified” and the new stereo qualities of “Sin.” And the slow build-up to the atmospheric “Something I Can Never Have” has been made more prominent. The reissue also has “Get Down Make Love,” not originally on the album, but the B-side for “Sin.”

This groundbreaking record was left in the dust—appropriately enough, for an industrial album—but the reissue shows it’s worth revisiting. Here, Reznor channeled the industrial aesthetics of Skinny Puppy, Ministry and Front 242 into something accessible, something pop but with teeth, and this record remains a lynch pin of the alterna-sounds that would infiltrate the mainstream.

Not many who bought Pretty Hate Machine are so angst-ridden anymore—not even Reznor himself, who is happily married and expecting a baby and created the soundtrack for the lauded film, The Social Network. In fact, most of us would now be considered well-adjusted members of society. But we know we’ll always have Pretty Hate Machine.
Josie Rubio