Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails, the one-man band of Trent Reznor, brought industrial music to the masses with 1989's Pretty Hate Machine. With its electronic rush, incessant beats, and distorted guitars, the album appeared to be like much industrial music on the surface, yet Reznor wrote pop songs, not the soundtrack to a personal horror movie. NIN's scarred, harsh soundscapes were bleak enough, yet Reznor's lyrics raise the despair and self-loathing to new heights; at times, his relentless darkness can veer dangerously close to self-parody.
Pretty Hate Machine wasn't a hit when it was released; it charted in 1990 and stayed on the charts for years afterward. By the time Reznor assembled a band for the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991, the group had a sizable following that only grew with NIN's ferocious performances on the tour. Legal troubles with his record company delayed the release of a second album; in 1992, he released a stop-gap EP, Broken, that was harder and more abrasive than the debut, yet still conformed to conventional song structures; it debuted in the Billboard Top Ten. With their second full-length album, Reznor showed his true roots -- '70s progressive rock. The Downward Spiral was promoted as a concept album, a cohesive piece of work; it also featured ex-King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew. Still, NIN is able to straddle two seemingly opposing genres easily, gaining alternative and mainstream hard rock fans alike; whether he likes it or not, Trent Reznor is the man that made industrial palatable for pop fans. The hit single "Closer" made him an unlikely sex symbol, and audiences eagerly anticipated his third album, 1999's The Fragile, which quickly hit number one and went double-platinum. The fall-2000 remix album Things Falling Apart featured previously unavailable material and several remixes, as well as showcasing work by Adrian Sherwood, Dave Ogilvie, Charlie Clouser, and more.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
The Tragically Hip
Over the course of nearly two decades and ten albums, Canada’s The Tragically Hip has achieved the enviable status of beloved band—one that enjoys both mass popularity and critical acclaim. The five-piece group of childhood friends from Kingston, Ontario accomplished this remarkable feat by producing raw, uncompromising music and lyrics that fearlessly “document the indigenous.” The latter, penned by Gord Downie, the group’s feverish frontman and a published poet in his own right, are renowned for their ironic wordplay and references to quintessentially Canadian subjects from hockey to history. But with In Between Evolution, The Hip takes a decidedly broader world view, with songs that reflect the anxiety and uncertainty of our troubled times.
Written against the backdrop of global conflict, and recorded in Seattle with producer Adam Kasper (Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age), In Between Evolution features some of the shortest, fastest songs and some of the most menacing guitar sounds ever to punctuate a Hip recording. From the piercing urgency of “Vaccination Scar” and the swampy spookiness of “Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park” to the boisterous riffage of “As Makeshift As We Are” and the breakneck pacing of “In the Heart of the Melt,” the album is, says Downie, “a helluva ride.” He adds: “We didn’t overwork it too much, or get involved in too many overdubs. It’s very much the sound of the five of us in a room. It’s like a train, complete with cattle catcher, pushing us down the track on our heels.”
Although never explicitly stated, the war in Iraq clearly provides a disturbing undercurrent to the album. Downie wrote several of the songs last year while touring the American south in support of his second solo album, Battle of the Nudes. “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night,” Downie reveals, was inspired by a surreal image of the jingoistic country singer Toby Keith, who he imagined “in a GI uniform running, Tom Hanks-style, across the screen with everything exploding around him.” And “Are We Family,” which subverts the Sister Sledge ’70s soul anthem “We Are Family,” questions the depressing direction of the human race, “taking care of each other, one bullet to another.”
Local tragedy informs other songs on the album. While The Hip was rehearsing some of its new material in the British Columbia ski resort town of Whistler last October, floodwaters washed out the bridge at nearby Rutherford Creek, taking several lives in the process (the band performed two secret concerts in Whistler, billing themselves as The Fighter Fighters, and raised $100,000 for the victims’ families). The resulting “Vaccination Scar” refers to how the bridge went down “like a bad card table.” That same month, hockey player Dan Snyder died at 25 in a car crash. In response, The Hip wrote “Heaven is a Better Place Today” and dedicated it to the young Atlanta Thrasher. “I was taken with the eloquence of what a lot of hockey players were saying about him at the time,” explains Downie, “but it’s also about guys that age going off to fight (in a war).”
Documenting the indigenous has helped to make The Hip—including guitarists Robby Baker and Paul Langlois, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay—the most important Canadian rock outfit since The Band or The Guess Who. Throughout the 1990s, the group released a string of top-selling albums in Canada, including Road Apples, Fully Completely, Trouble at the Henhouse and Phantom Power, and such memorable hit singles as “Courage,” “At the Hundredth Meridian,” “50 Mission Cap” and “Poets.” With 2000’s Music @ Work and 2002’s In Violet Light, the Hip maintained its haunting imagery and sonically charged sound. Meanwhile, the band’s legendary live shows have remained its strength: showcases of incendiary musical jams topped by Downie’s frenetic, stream-of-consciousness poetry.
With In Between Evolution, The Tragically Hip provides its fans with a studio album that comes closest to capturing the band’s live sound. Recalls Downie: “We got the songs down pretty much cold and then played them at Whistler, which was a great way to fine tune them before recording. I think that’s why the songs are so snappy—they really pack a punch.” A deadly punch, as it turns out. “Does your family know your wishes?” Downie asks in the anthemic rocker “Summer’s Killing Us,” “cause this chorus’ll do ya like the dishes.” In other words, it’ll slay ya. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.