Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Head Like a Hole

If your sole experience with Nine Inch Nails is buried somewhere between The Downward Spiral and With Teeth, Pretty Hate Machine, despite its sublimity, may get lost in translation. Pretty Hate Machine is the primordial stew of 80s new wave synth and industrial deference, a result of DIY demos and youthful tenacity. The 2010 reissue reviewed here was founded in Reznor's longtime pursuit to regain control of the original masters, having seen them tossed like a ship in a hurricane after the original label, TVT Records, went under. Rykodisc unceremoniously doled out a half-assed 2005 reprint with no input from its creator nor any attempt to pretty it up. The 2010 reissue rectifies that despite its lack of awe. But that lack of awe is my fault, it's personal, an insistence that the original is simply best; nonetheless, in true Absolute Magnitude style, the reissue is indeed the album we could/should have had in 1989 (an album I bought 25 years ago this week).

I'd been doting over the "How Soon is Now Girl" for more than a year, sending mixed tapes and letters with alt philosophies and cryptic I Love Yous. I couldn't stand it any longer, the pining, the dreary domain of unrequited love, like living in a Goth album cover. I bought a car I couldn’t afford, bought a handful of CDs – my first CDs  and just drove. "Head like a hole, black as your soul," speeding through the Valley. "Hey God, can this world be as sad as it seems," through Pearblossom and the upper desert. Yeah, it was real self-serving, wallowing bullshit over a female I hardly knew who crushed my heart with her perfect little hands. It was June 15, 1990.

That kind of angst-y shit sticks with you; you can wallow in it the rest of your life. Turns out we like how it feels and all that happiness we may luck upon in our lives is only realized through a glass darkly. I don’t have many CDs left, but I have that one.

2010's edition amplifies subtleties throughout the album that stick out to those who lived it well: raising the volume on clicks and hums at the "Head Like A Hole" intro, beefing up resonance on every drum-machine beat in "The Only Time," buffing off excess static in the quiet moments of "Something I Can Never Have." My only true qualm with the definitive remaster is that lack of awe. The "greatly improved sonic experience" we were promised appears only moderately. And yet there is a duality I cannot shake: on the one hand, I love the first pressing, it's a part of who I was (so dramatically, btw), so I wouldn't want it totally warped; on the other hand, after Reznor's tumultuous struggle in snagging the masters back, I expected some kind of AM11, which didn't happen. Instead the release is like looking back at your cathode ray TV after watching 2001 in HD on an LG 50 inch; same as what you remember, but bigger, brighter, louder, but you only just noticed. So, okay, then: bigger, brighter, louder without the angst. All right then, AM10. (If indeed the AM rubric could be skewed to 11, that might just be managed through the inclusion of the stellar AM10 single "Get Down, Make Love," the exceptional industrial cover from Queen's News of the World.)

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