This week I’m heading back to the early ’90’s for my AOTW pick. This record, by definition really an EP, was one of the most formative things I’ve ever heard and it’s also a set of songs that I’m very personally connected to after all these years. I’ve talked about a few of my favorite acts in the early stages of this site but now it’s time for my first dive into another of my all-time favorites.
Nine Inch Nails – Broken
Released September 22, 1992 via Nothing Records
Favorite Tracks – Wish, Last, Gave Up
The mini album features two instrumentals – opener Pinion and Help Me I Am In Hell in the middle of the effort. Both are fine and I’m not usually bothered by instrumentals or interlude-style things but certainly they are not the main event on Broken.
The show truly kicks off with Wish – a vicious, heavy as hell trip through self-hatred that wound up winning a Grammy in 1993 for Best Metal Performance. It was my first real introduction to the band as I didn’t remember much of the debut Pretty Hate Machine but I was primed and ready for NIN when Wish hit MTV. It’s easily one of my favorite songs from NIN and just songs overall.
Last is next and is another splendid take on self-dejection and the disposable nature of humanity. The pounding riff is superb and there are some fantastic lyrics in the song – “my lips may promise but my heart is a whore” being chief among them.
Happiness In Slavery hits with some crazy stuff about bondage or whatever. I certainly wasn’t in tune with what the song was talking about when I was 15. Regardless I still dig the track, there’s a shade more melody to it than the rest of the EP while still retaining the depths of heaviness found elsewhere.
The proper portion of Broken ends on another angst-ridden, depressive song that I consider a total masterwork. Gave Up is a sonic pummeling and some of the most messed up lyrics ever to be found in any mainstream music release. Trent Reznor masks some of his vocals in an almost black metal wail but the message of utter hopelessness is still conveyed in full measure.
The EP concludes with two bonus tracks – a cover of Adam Ant’s Physical and a quasi-cover of Pigface’s Suck. Reznor was a member of Pigface when Suck was originally recorded so it’s more of his own rendition of the song than a cover per se.
The physical album release provides some interesting trivia. The original CD release offered Physical and Suck on a 3-inch bonus mini CD. Both original and reissued versions of the vinyl have those songs on a separate 7-inch record. I think I had the normal CD way back when with the two extra songs tacked on after a lot of hidden silent tracks, kind of a thing in ’90’s CD releases.
I won’t get too much into it but there was also a film for Broken that was, let’s just say, flat out disgusting. I never saw the whole thing but bits I did watch were pretty messed up. Most of Wish made it onto MTV but the band apparently had to edit part of the video’s end out. I guess it’s not hard to get a DVD-quality version of the entire film on the ‘Net today but honestly that sort of snuff or whatever isn’t my gig so I don’t mess with it.
The three songs I mentioned as my favorites at the start – Wish, Last and Gave up – do hold pretty high personal connections with me. They are interwoven at multiple points in my life and mean different things depending on specifically what was up. It could be old friends who fell away, exes I should have never messed with in the first place, terrible heartbreak or just good old fashioned self-loathing and lack of worth. A copy of Broken is far cheaper than therapy, but I’m guessing that the album is also not anyone’s definition of self-care. I don’t know, I just roll with it.
Broken was a major shift for Nine Inch Nails in 1992 and would herald the magnum opus that was to come a few years later. But this EP itself is one of the high points of an extensive catalog of masterful recordings. Trent Reznor joined the likes of Ministry and others in a pursuit of dark, industrial metal and crafted an excellent, soul-crushing EP that was perhaps too dark for anyone’s good but would still go on to platinum sales status. It’s been one of the most valued and most important musical works in my life, and it’s definitely on my list of music I’d have to have on desert island.