The Downward Spiral

Nine Inch Nails

Interscope Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/06/2004

The Downward Spiral was released shortly after Kurt Cobain blew his brains out. As music magazines mark the tenth anniversary of Kurt's death, hopefully the anniversary of this album's release won't go unnoticed. While the album was basically geared to be Reznor's breakout album, ten years later, it sounds like the most politically charged album for 2004.

Think about it - in the age where radio giants like Clear Channel are doing a far more effective job for censorship than the government ever could and the ridiculous blowup over Janet Jackson's halftime antics, it's hard to believe that my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Downward Spiral could even hit the airwaves in 2004. It has everything that is a hot button censorship issue: songs about violence, sado-masochism and drug use. It's hard to believe that when "Closer" was released as a single, the outcry was virtually non-existent, even with its memorable chorus: "I want to f**k you like an animal." Sure C. Delores Tucker lumped Reznor in with Snoop Dogg, but most radio stations did not ban the tune. To add relevance to The Downward Spiral, John McCain (who may be part of a historic bipartisan presidential ticket) is a self-professed Nine Inch Nails fan.

It was unfortunate that it took a Johnny Cash cover of "Hurt" to make people notice that for all the noise, Trent Reznor is an incredibly solid songwriter. Pretty Hate Machine and Broken may have stuck with the same mood, but they became staples of the new industrial sound. However, much attention was focused on Reznor during the emerging alternative music scene, and Reznor knew he would have to incorporate more emotions than just unadulterated rage. The Downward Spiral had moments of beauty (the introduction of the title track), vulnerability ("I Do Not Want This") and even humor (the over the top "Big Man With a Gun").

In addition to some stronger songwriting, Reznor also includes much more diversity on The Downward Spiral than either of his previous albums. The album was fans first exposure to David Bowie's influence on Reznor's work. He would later take his Bowie fix to a new plane with his follow-up album, The Fragile.

Some of the tunes failed to register with me in 1994 and don't register today. "I Do Not Want This" sounds like a 30-year-old throwing a teenage-style temper tantrum and "Heresy" seems to deliberately try to raise the ire of the religious right, but comes off as a loud whine. It wants to be a masterpiece. It would take almost five years and a looser approach to the music before Reznor released an album that would justify that label of masterpiece. Still, for all its imperfections, The Downward Spiral is a bracing listen, and perhaps more important now than it was in 1994.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Interscope Records, and is used for informational purposes only.