It's not all synthpop you know. I was first belatedly introduced to Nine Inch Nails when I left school in 1992 with Pretty Hate Machine. You all know that album and how it brilliantly fused Depeche Mode's Black Celebration with, well, anger. I went to University in Aberdeen claiming to be a Nine Inch Nails fan and, just after I'd started up there, bought the cassette (ask you parents or cool friends) of new e.p. Broken, expecting another Pretty Hate Machine. It turned out not to be the case but of all Nine Inch Nails hugely impressive catalogue, even against the absolute titan that is The Downward Spiral, Broken still stands out for me and is still my favourite. Electronic music doesn't all have to be clean crisp synths - sometimes it works just as well when it's loud, shouty and basically a noise. Broken was released on cassette, cd and a superb vinyl e.p. with free 7" featuring the two extra tracks discussed below. I still don't have the vinyl, so if you're reading this and want to send me it....
Broken was recorded by Trent Reznor in the aftermath of TVT, the label that released Pretty Hate Machine insisting they wanted a carbon copy follow up. Never one to do what anyone told him to, Reznor set about recording Broken and making it a loud, disorted wall of anger and it remains a wall that stands today. Using the industrial scene as an influence, Reznor somehow manages to mix extreme noise with melody, producing six songs that on the one hand no doubt scared off many expecting Pretty Hate Machine part 2 but on the other enchanted many more people that he or indeed anyone probably though possible. Yes, there's the shock value of the videos and the apparent snuff film Broken designed to accompany the release, but ignore all that and focus on the music.
Opener Pinion is essentially the rage filled cousin of Kraftwerk's Geiger Counter albeit louder and not quite as subtle. It is played frustrating low in volume however, or at least that's the case if you're listening to it on a Walkman (again, ask your Mum and Dad) because when track two, the outrageous and outrageously godlike genius marvelousness of Wish kicks in, your head will explode if you are fooled in to turning up the volume to hear what Pinion is all about. Wish is easily one of my favourite songs of all time and I still love it as much now as I did on first listen. Drums that sound like they're being played by ten people, sheer noises, guitars that are so distorted that they could explode a planet and electronic music so heavy that you can't fail to move parts of your body you haven't moved in ages. When I saw them in 2014 at the Hydro, this song was the highlight. The whole place vibrated it was so loud. Amazing. Wish is one song you must hear from Broken - check out the video below. Last is next, continuing the sonic attack and again featuring teenage angst like lyrics from a man that wasn't in his teens any more. All that said, when I've had a crap day at work, I usually reach for this e.p. I tends to help. Last also features a rather marvellously sleazy guitar solo at 44 seconds in which is a real joy.
The cheerily titled Help Me I Am In Hell is a short instrumental which then leads to the punishing, enjoyable and most electronic track on here, Happiness In Slavery. This is one track that can only ever sound good played at ear killing volume. It's immense. Finally, the e.p. ends on Gave Up which seems to employ an octopus as a drummer and manages to have one of the catchiest choruses you'll hear in a song that is so distorted and relentless that you feel drunk listening to it.
There are two more hidden tracks too. On the cd, they are tracks 98 and 99 which you have to skip to, on the tape they are right at the end of the otherwise blank side two and with the vinyl they are available on an accompanying 7" which seems far fairer. The first U.S cd pressings featured them on a 3" cd with the main release. Extra track number one is a cover of Adam And The Ants Physical (You're So) which is just bloody tremendous and the second is Suck, a cover of a Pigface track which, again is quite brilliant.
Broken is one of those records that is special to me, partly because of the time in my life I got it but also because it still sounds fresh now. It's a rewarding listen and is tight and focussed which later Nine Inch Nails releases like The Fragile lack in places. It's hard not to love a record that is just this loud and angry. I'd recommend it to anyone. If you feel really brave, try the remix e.p. Fixed which drops all pretence of melody and spends 40 minutes or so smacking you around the head. It's good too, but Broken is the real star
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