Album: Pretty Hate Machine
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Label: Island Records Ltd
Year: 1989
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Toned down versions of potentially heartbreaking songs.

Nine Inch Nails's debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, contains many great songs. The lyrics sound like they came straight from the heart of a genuinely heartbroken, pitiful individual who was coming to terms with the realisation that the religion he was brought up to believe was a sham. The obligatory love themed songs deal with being rejected by a former lover, but even they seem to be more about rejecting the belief in a god, with the singer feeling betrayed by religion more than any lover.

The music is catchy, and if it wasn't for the anger and sorrow of the lyrics, many of the cuts might have been very popular. Trent Reznor is always aiming for something more interesting than popularity, however, and has a talent for writing good hooks and hummable melodies, which he then hides inside a soundscape so harsh that you barely even realise the songs have melodies at all.

Unfortunately, unlike Nine Inch Nails's later releases, this album has no such soundscape. This was apparently the fault of the record label, who insisted Trent Reznor tone down his edgy live act for this studio release. As a result, Pretty Hate Machine contains uninspiring versions of otherwise emotionally charged songs. This album wouldn't seem out of place next to Pop Will Eat Itself's debut Box Frenzy, which is frankly a crime for songs with such potential.

The only song that survives this transformation unscathed is Something I Can Never Have. Like The Downward Spiral's poignant Hurt, it is stripped down to barely more than the vocal, allowing you to focus on the singer's despair and regret.

To hear this album's songs properly, you'd be much better off buying Nine Inch Nails's live album And All That Could Have Been, or ideally, seeing them live. Their raw energy is amazing, but this album doesn't even try to capture it.