The Skinny: This is the second full-length release from Disney-soundtrack composer (well, he is) Trent Reznor and his industrial-rock project Nine Inch Nails. The Downward Spiral received a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Performance, as well as for Best Rock Song for “Hurt.” This is an important recording and you should have a copy in your collection.
Sounds like: Marilyn Manson, Powerman 5000, Pere Ubu, Faster Pussycat, Skinny Puppy, Rob Zombie
Deeper Thoughts: A critical and commercial success, The Downward Spiral helped make frontman and principal songwriter Trent Reznor one of the biggest rock stars of the ‘90s. The highly influential concept album is credited with bringing industrial music, an aggressive fusion of hard rock and electronica, to the masses. “Closer,” the album’s second single and NIN’s best-known song, featured a controversial music video that received heavy airplay on MTV.
In a recent interview for 360°Sound, author Adam Steiner discussed the album’s concept:
“My take on the overarching concept of the album, much like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, follows an individual, call them the album’s narrator, who spirals into a well of depression, self-loathing and alienation. As they experience a breakdown of the fundamental pillars of their life – religion, relationships, optimism for the future – they become less human and withdraw into a nihilistic headspace where the real, external world has ceased to matter.”
The Sonics: This record can be a tough listen on low bit-rate streaming or in a lossy-compression file format (these sounds weren’t meant to be that abrasive). This disc is eye-opening through our headphone CD player with my favored Sennheiser HD650 open-back headphones, revealing tons of mind-bending shit I never knew was in there. The high-frequency sounds aren’t as brittle as in other formats, but I could still use a little more thump in the lows. The close-miked piano and vocals are particularly moving.
Note: This copy has the requisite “parental advisory” sticker. You have been warned.