The Downward Spiral (Nothing/Interscope, 1994)
It was the best of sounds, it was the worst of
sounds. In a Los Angeles recording studio, Trent
Reznor filtered the nails-on-chalkboard textures
of industrial through a blend of punk, metal,
hip-hop, stoner rock, and New Wave, which
made the machinery pulse as if it were
human--and still sounds fresh today. But the
studio in question was located in the house where
Charles Manson's "Family" slew actress Sharon
Tate, and Reznor paid tribute with plenty of
sophomoric "pig" lyrics. Even he only
half-heartedly defended the tossed-off horror
show "Big Man With a Gun," which put him on a
collision course with conservative activist C.
DeLores Tucker and former U.S. Secretary of
Education William Bennett. Anything went, and
without much thought to the consequences.
Still, it could have been worse. As Reznor said in
1995, "There was another song that I didn't put
on there called `Just Do It.' It was a very
dangerously self-destructive, silly little snippet.
You know, `If you're going to kill yourself, just
do it, nobody cares at all.' But [Downward
Spiral coproducer] Flood freaked out and said,
`No, you've gone too far. I don't want to be
involved in that.'"
Reznor's embrace of the extreme could seem disturbingly manipulative, but his anger was real. The
results, drawn in part from Ministry's work in the '80s but far more grand and personal, synthesized a
new brand of rock'n'roll rocket fuel. Reznor obviously influenced industrial-types like Filter and his
seamier protégé, Marilyn Manson, but he also paved the way for anyone mixing guitar-slinger rage
with modern-day beats. And despite the controversy swirling around Reznor, the synth-pop tour de
force "Closer" made "I want to fuck you like an animal" a heavy-rotation message. Tori Amos admires
"the way he stuck to what he believed in and could draw a line with the record company." Today, as
Reznor finishes his long-long-awaited new record, he says, "I had a story to tell [with The Downward
Spiral], and I was--and still am--very pleased with how it turned out. I didn't realize at the time,
however, that it was about to become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.