Truly unforgettable Nine Inch Nails track that originally appeared on Pretty Hate Machine (Halo 2) but also crops up in various guises elsewhere- as a 'deconstructed' track on Still (Halo 17), as a live track from the video set closure (Halo 12), and in an extended form for the soundtrack to Natural Born Killers.

What it doesn't appear on is the Purest Feeling bootleg/demo for Pretty Hate Machine, although if it had things might have developed very differently for me. My first run in with NIN was, of all things, a midi file bundled in with a Duke Nukem map (mp3's at the time being all of 56kbit and used to shrink .wav files rather than a recognised filetype in their own right), and I acquired a couple more- Hurt and A Warm Place, certainly not at the heavier end of Trent's range and all the more mournful when stripped to bare piano chords for midi playback. Fast forward a couple of years and I got my mitts on an mp3-cd (now in 128kbit glory) containing, amongst other things, Purest Feeling- and was distinctly underwhelmed, so it took a back seat in my collection. I eventually got hold of The Downward Spiral and heard those tracks which had originally captivated me in their true glory, and was amazed by their depth of feeling when coupled with Trent's vocals. Had Something I Can Never Have been included (or if my friendly bootlegger had grabbed Pretty Hate Machine) then I would probably have been hooked from the start, as it's one of the most painfully beautiful tracks I've ever heard, and captures all of the elements that had interested me at first.

Light on the synth-pop elements that date some other NIN work, Something I can Never Have blends lonely piano chords, ominous industrial sounds that never quite break through the surface and above all Trent's incredible vocals for almost 6 minutes. Although it seems to build into a powerful ending, the interweaving of vocal and piano is never lost and lingers to the end when all the mechanical strength has faded, replaced by ambient sound. Form imitates content: the lyrics dwelling on the despair of a love lost but not forgotten, still clung to in an attempt to ward off an empty self-


I still recall the taste of your tears
Echoing your voice just like the ringing in my ears
My favorite dreams of you still wash ashore
Scraping through my head 'till I don't want to sleep anymore

Chorus
You make this all go away
You make this all go away
I'm down to just one thing
And I'm starting to scare myself
You make this all go away
You make this all go away
I just want something
I just want something I can never have

You always were the one to show me how
Back then I couldn't do the things that I can do now
This thing is slowly taking me apart
Grey would be the color if I had a heart
Come on tell me

Chorus

In this place it seems like such a shame
Though it all looks different now
I know it's still the same
Everywhere I look, you're all I see
Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be
Come on tell me

You make this all go away.
You make this all go away
I'm down to just one thing
And I'm starting to scare myself
You make this all go away
You make it all go away
I just want something
I just want something I can never have
I just want something I can never have


Interestingly, the lyrics included in the album lining to Pretty Hate Machine offer an extra verse that doesn't feature in the recorded (or live) versions. This is the case for several tracks, with Trent saying that:

"There were some lyrics that I had written that I couldn't fit into the songs as I was combining lyrics with music. I included them because I like them and also because they could be discovered by the person that took the time to read the lyrics."
In this case, the extra vocals would have significantly altered the track. As it stands, there is a buildup to a lengthened, beefed-up version of the chorus, an anguished plea for respite that fades, and with it hope. Yet the additional lyrics offer instead as closing lines "think I know what you meant/ that night on my bed/ still picking at this scab/ I wish you were dead", which introduce a sense of hatred and resentment that the recorded version avoids- or rather, any hatred is channeled inwards, lashing out at his own inability to let go of love, rather than at the target of that affection. That perhaps is why this track cuts so deep- for the pain is not born out of rage, but love.

CST Approved

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