Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1994 Pazz & Jop: Hegemony Sez Who? Does ‘Alternative Rock’ Rule or Rool?

The shoo-in winner of the 21st or 22nd Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll is hardly a shock, except perhaps to those who’ve declared the nifty little pop band Green Day a sign of the zeitgeist. Most wily young alternacrits had handicapped Hole’s Live Through This at No. 1 months ago, and without much to-do about her gender. One reason Liz Phair’s status as our first female victor in 19 years was so momentous was that it signaled the very change in rock’s sexual politics that renders Courtney Love’s status as our second consecutive female victor relatively incidental. Her gender is integral to her appeal — at the core of what she says and how she says it, essential by definition to her descents into the madness of sexism. But it’s no longer headline news in a milieu where female artists may finally have achieved a measure of permanent respect. Zeitgeistwise, Love signifies as a bohemian — totally identified with a subculture she scolds, consults, and gives herself up to every time she mounts a stage — before she signifies as a woman. And she also signifies as a widow before she does as a woman. Only I don’t really mean widow, I mean FOK, and maybe FOK should come first.

I mean, we got Friends of Kurt all over this poll. We got his wife’s breakout at number one, his group’s exequy at number four, his Dutch uncle’s tribute at number five; we got his new buddy Michael Stipe rediscovering the guitar at three and his replacement love object Trent Reznor superceding the guitar at nine and Seattle’s Soundgarden inhabiting their groove at 11 and Seattle’s Pearl Jam eyeballing his death mask at 25. We got a singles list featuring five records by the above and a video list featuring three of those. We got a bunch of Pazz & Jop-approved and -unapproved “alternative” albums going multiplatinum, never mind Hole’s gold. In short, we got the Nevermind revolution, three years after Nirvana’s major-label debut transformed the Amerindie aesthetic into a corporate tool. Alternative doesn’t just rool, it rules; it’s mass culture, mainstream, hegemonic. Leaving us with not just the eternal question “Alternative to what?” but the brand-new conundrum “Hegemonic sez who?”

On the most obvious level, Pazz & Jop ’94 is the triumph of a subculture and a generation — the nationwide postpunk bohemia that has fed into our poll since the early ’80s, back when everybody from R.E.M. to the Minutemen were critics’ bands. That the triumph is fundamentally symbolic — limited not just to the universe of signs, but to an attempt to quantify quality there — doesn’t nullify its sweep. Talk about your blitzkrieg bop. In 1994, Pazz & Jop’s politely ecumenical mix of Euro and Afro, Yank and furriner, fart and turk was demolished. This was the sorriest year for black music in Pazz & Jop history: the six black artists in the top 40, one in the top 30, and zero in the top 20 are the fewest since we started counting to 40 in 1979; except for 1978, when there were zero in the top 20 but two in the top 30, they’re the fewest ever. The three albums from the British Isles also represent an all-time low, reached just once before. Ambient ethno his specialty, Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure was the sole “world music” finisher as well as one of the six blacks, and he needed help from Ry Cooder, one of just three prepunk survivors to make our list. That’s also a record, and at least Ry’s only half a ringer: his fellow oldsters are denim-clad Neil “Forever” Young, whose postpunk affinities date to 1979, and basic-black Johnny “Hard” Cash, whose Rick Rubin–masterminded acoustic pseudocountry record impressed young death-trippers worried that a “real” gangsta might beat them up. As in the “real” world, where people buy their records, Cash’s support from fans of the Mavericks, the Nashville-massaged nuevo honky-tonkers whose 35th-place ranking was an encouraging anomaly, was random at best.

Don’t let my dismay mislead you — as a matter of sheer taste, a judgment of where the musical/cultural action was and wasn’t in 1994, I go along with the electoral trend. It was a great year for good new-fashioned guitar-band rock and roll. This was the first time since 1987 when I didn’t put a hip hop record or two in my top 10. Ditto for Afropop. In fact, the sole black voice among my favorites was provided by dance diva Heather Small on one of the two Brit albums in my top 40. M People’s Elegant Slumming came in an ill-informed 55th with the voters, lower than any other record I gave points to; the other selections in my most critically conventional top 10 in memory finished 1-2-4-10-18-20-21-27-43. The coots on my ballot are Los Lobos spinoff the Latin Playboys, who I assume are in their forties; the mom-and-pop band that is the paradoxically named Sonic Youth, who I know are in their forties; Bob Mould of Sugar, who retreated to the boho enclave of Austin at 34; and Iris DeMent, who at 33 makes a matched Pazz & Jop set with 35-year-old Victoria Williams, two chin-up Southern aunts to balance off sourpusses Young and Cash, although both are young enough to be their sisters (and my daughters). Except for Sugar, all four of these artists were Consumer Guided at an overcautious A minus only to overwhelm me with mature musical command — how rich and right they sounded as waveforms in the air. But it was under-30s like Beck and Hole and Sebadoh and Pavement and most of all Nirvana — as well as such voter favorites as Soundgarden and Green Day and to some extent Pearl Jam and the Beastie Boys — who spoke most compellingly to my sense of history. And in this respect I may well have been hearing them differently from their natural-born fans.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692625″ /]

Not one to abjure the comfy emotions of uncledom, I’ve always taken an indulgent attitude toward Amerindie – ingrates might call it condescending. Over the past decade, postpunk has outproduced even such pleasure-intensive subgenres as rap and Afropop, and in addition it’s held out hope for bohemia — for disssenting subcultures where new ways of doing things can be tested. But bohemias are silly and deluded places. Back when my hair was halfway down my back and my Lower East Side apartment cost $45 a month, I scoffed at hippieville’s insularity, self-righteousness, privilege, and half-assed analysis of the marketplace. And in the postpunk era I’ve been wont to ask, “Why so glum, chum?” The charges of nihilism endured by young people with nose rings and unusual hair are dumber than the young people themselves, and not just because nihilism is rarer than it’s given credit for — in artistic output and personal relations both, alternakids make room for considerable kindness and enough hope, and their bleakest moments tap into a musical energy capable of reversing the negative charge. Often, however, the polarity remains unchanged, leaving only misery and rage, passivity and sloth, willful incoherence and helpless sarcasm, naive cynicism and cheap despair. And even when it does go positive — as with Nirvana above all, or Beck — it’s hard for anyone who’s spent 30 years watching fucked-up kids get lives not to point out that there are more direct routes from A to B. Growing up hurts. Duh.

By November, however, I was feeling more simpatico. Partly it was coming to terms with Kurt. Weighing in late, after the bullshit had cleared, I read several books, reimmersed in his catalogue, and got serious with MTV Unplugged, music I had earlier dismissed regretfully as a low-energy holding action turned last will and testament. But although like most live albums this one isn’t without redundancies and flat moments, it goes a long way toward establishing Cobain’s genius. By singing his opaque lyrics instead of howling them, he shades in his affect, and Nevermind’s and In Utero’s as well — thus helping well-adjusted optimists like me empathize not just with his pain but with the extravagant alienation that fed off it. And by November, it wasn’t just a dead guy making me feel that way. As a left-of-McGovernik electoral skeptic, I don’t believe a shift of a few percentage points among lever-pulling registered voters signals a transformation of the national character. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t frightening to watch editors and pundits leap slavering to that self-fulfilling analysis. It doesn’t mean the real-life consequences of the Republican takeover won’t be horrific for Americans who can least afford more shit. And it doesn’t mean that without Tom Foley to kick around anymore, the nattering nabobs of negativity holding forth on Capitol Hill — not to mention the medium that long ago gave us rock and roll — won’t now take out after more genuinely marginal types, “alternative” rock (and “alternative” newspapers) included.

So my November was as shitty as many Pazz & Joppers’ April, a disjunction in timing suitable to someone who has long believed rock and roll shouldn’t be a religion — that if your life is saved by rock and roll, either it would have been saved anyway or it wasn’t only you don’t know it yet. Kurt’s suicide distressed me, but it didn’t surprise me much, and it took the equally unsurprising suicide of America’s corporate liberals to traumatize me into feeling it as deeply as my young friends did. Suddenly all the anarchic, discordant records I already considered 1994’s best were expressing an inchoate rage that I felt. Suddenly the loopy jokes, bitter asides, and free dissociations of Beck and Cobain made perverse sense. Suddenly all that angst and confusion and cynicism and despair felt like part of my daily life.

The under-35 Amerindie natives who now constitute our largest voting bloc rarely fret so about personal identification. Although some alternacrits look back wistfully to when they could fairly be characterized as under-30, even under-25, for them — and for most of today’s rock criticism audience, even in this historically hyperconscious, culturally catholic periodical — discordant-to-anarchic guitars are the world. Many respondents delightedly or defiantly or dutifully or desperately broaden their aural perspectives, and only a few are so ignorant or intolerant that they never venture out of the compound. But whatever smorgasbord of hip hop and funk and jazz and r&b and classical and pop and blues and country and dance and trance and African and Hispanic and Asian (and lounge?) they sample, guitar bands of a certain scruffiness remain their staple diet. For 10 or 15 years these critics’ lives have revolved around clubs, shops, and radio stations that specialize in such bands, and far from finding the musical language limited, they suspect, more as a habit of thought than a tenet of faith, that it can be adapted to any meaning worth expressing, any need worth satisfying — at least any meaning or need that interests them.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692617″ /]

I don’t want to overstate how narrow this world is. Many alternative-identified voters — although too separated from each other (and probably their faculties) to comprise any counterconsensus — would find our top 40 hopelessly pop, slick, unindie, etc. Anyway, discordance is a dinosaur-era tradition — cf. Neil Young, cf. Soundgarden, cf. even pomo scam artist Jon Spencer — that remains discreet in such new singer-songwriters as Liz Phair and Kristin Hersh and to a lesser extent the postmodern folkie Beck and to a greater extent the premodern folkie Johnny Cash and to any extent you care to calibrate the eternal folkie Jeff Buckley, and just about inaudible in such alternative-by-association singer-songwriters as Freedy Johnston and Victoria Williams. Moreover, while such finishers as industrialist Nine Inch Nails and rap-derived Beastie Boys and demo-hawking Magnetic Fields and pop-ambient Portishead and fiddler-engineer Lisa Germano and music therapist K. McCarty and gosh-jazzlike Soul Coughing all utilize guitar sounds, not one made a true guitar-band record. So there’s variety aplenty on our list. Even if Nine Inch Nails and Portishead are both technoid, one’s as assaultive as Archie Shepp, the other as soothing as the MJQ. Even if Pavement and Pearl Jam are both guitar-driven, one’s as cool as Sade, the other as corny as Mariah Carey. And even if Michael Stipe and Courtney Love are both politically outspoken FOKs, one will settle for a cup of coffee while the other wants the most cake.

So, OK, I’m being fair, right? And remember, I said this was a great year for loud guitar bands, got off on most of the faves myself. Yet seven of our top 12 — Hole, Pavement, R.E.M., (the admittedly unplugged) Nirvana, Guided by Voices, Soundgarden, and Green Day, with Young and Beck and Nine Inch Nails this close sonically and lucky sophomore Liz Phair not all that far away (which in case you’ve lost count leaves Uncle Johnny standing alone with his unwhine and his hand-powered axe) — somehow seems too uniform. It’s exclusionary, myopic; it can’t last, it won’t last, and even though it vindicates all of us (not just Amerindie natives but their older supporters) who’ve been fending off rock-is-dead rumors for as long as we can remember (would you believe 1969?), I don’t want it to last. Gratified though I am by how my favorites placed, that’

s all the more reason for me to suspect that this year my dissents from the consensus aren’t just nitpicks, judgment calls, and specialized pleasures.

For starters, there’s the critics’ hype and fantasy of the year, Guided by Voices: nerd concocts obscure hookfests in basement, transmutes magically into Michael J. Fox onstage. And hey, he’s almost old besides, just barely under-35, plus he has a real job. (Let me here give thanks that my fourth-grader is taught by someone who loves her job rather than Robert Pollard, who has bigger dreams. At least Courtney limits her ministrations to her own kid.) Then there are the mainstream hypes: Big Jawn, who’ll capitalize by collaborating with the Dust Brothers on the vinyl-prereleased Outlaw Rap, and Ms. Liz, lavishly forgiven for producing a barely adequate follow-up instead of an unmistakable sophomore stiff. There’s the future presaged by the least enthusiastic EP list in poll history — the 1994 album by the Pizzicato Five, who with 15 EP mentions would have been fifth in 1993, finished below 140. There’s a 41-50 list where “alternative” continues to wield an iron hand: Veruca Salt, American Music Club, Sonic Youth, L7, Pretenders, Richard Thompson, Jack Logan, Seal, Seefeel, Wu-Tang Clan. There’s the disgraceful shortfall of the noisebringers of 1987, Sonic Youth (43rd) and Public Enemy (60th), perennials who elaborated their innovations with something very much like wisdom in 1994 and were counted old and in the way by voters whose tradition of the new makes them semiofficial biz interns, chain-gang volunteers shoveling bands into buzz bins. And there’s the collective point inflation of Phair, Kristin Hersh, Luscious Jackson, Lisa Germano, and the less female-identified K. McCarty, which suggests to my obviously nonfemale ears an electorate that considers gender solidarity (by men as well as women) a suitable substitute for full-service politics.

I do more or less exempt Hole from this charge. Live Through This’s punk song sense, screechy lyricism, and all-around voracity would have taken it top five if Kurt had given up music to become a narcotics agent. Still, I note that Courtney could be the second straight winner to make girls who don’t know any better think twice about the perils of feminism. Liz Phair didn’t “sell out,” children, but she sure did “freak out,” as we used to say, so you have to wonder when the far crazier Courtney’s far more stressful bout of fame will simply waste her, to the relief of the fools who find her bad personality and lust for attention distasteful when in fact they’re her skillfully orchestrated aesthetic ground. I’m not asking Courtney over for dinner, but I am rooting for her, because I think she’s smart (and lustful) enough to make a great record, not just a fortuitously timed very good one — a record that bounced around the bottom of my top 12 along with five other guitar albums, landing higher than it probably deserved. Which is to admit that I don’t entirely exempt Hole from suspicions of special-interest support. But it’s OK, really — since one proof of Nirvana’s greatness was the spontaneous antisexism of its ordinary-joe apotheosis, it’s only natural that girls in Nirvana’s wake should get extra credit for being girls. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help me hear their records. With Hersh especially the disconnection may be personal — I’ve never gotten Laura Nyro, but I grant others their response to her emotionalism. With Luscious Jackson, however, I’m positive there’s not much there, because I wish it was, and so feel certain they’re being rewarded for their (theoretically) funky agape as Veruca Salt are passed over for their cynicism or calculation or something — which I find inaudible, and isn’t it the stuff you can hear that matters in the end?

[related_posts post_id_1=”692612″ /]

Given my feelings in the Veruca Salt matter, which inspired water-balloon attacks and even food fights in a community you’d think had more important things to argue about, I’m relieved the critics had enough fun in them to select “Seether” their No. 2 single, behind the song of the year, Beck’s “Loser.” And there were plenty of titles not on top-40 albums in the lower reaches of that list, which is always a sign of health — of voters actively enjoying records with a life of their own. Seven of the top 10, however, were from top-40 albums, the most since 1986. Worse still for pluralists, six of these came from “alternative” albums in the top 15 and only two didn’t score as videos. Worse than that, the five rap singles were the fewest since 1987, and only one of what might loosely be called the three dance records — Crystal Waters’s “100% Pure Love” — could also be called a club record.

I assume these patterns aren’t permanent, but they worry me. In the techno era, dance music has become such a DJ’s medium that hits no longer cross over automatically — you have to seek them out, which can seem like one of the seven labors of Lester Bangs in a market predicated on mastermixing, exoticism, and disposability. As for what any critic worth his or her baseball cap now calls hip hop, Touré’s unapology (headed “Skills, Son”) speaks for itself. I’m enough of an East Coast chauvinist to give props to several of his designated aesthetic milestones; at his behest I’m reconsidering Wu-Tang, and nonspecialist though I be, I could always hear the art in Jeru and Nas (with the proviso that Nas’s music is in his rhyming/rapping). But the questions Touré barely thinks to ask are precisely those so many more-alternative-than-thous consider beneath them. Why should anyone outside the hip hop community care? And isn’t the failure to induce outsiders to care an artistic flaw in itself? In a culture of overproduction, skills aren’t all that hard to come by.

It’s true that the core audience for albums like Illmatic and The Sun Rises in the East seems economically self-sustaining, and it’s undeniable that hip hoppers are historically justified in paying small mind to outsiders — if not the large number of African American music lovers with no interest in Jeru’s subtly disquieting beats, certainly white pleasure-seekers. As the American apartheid rap prophets ranted about becomes a malignancy so virulent I won’t waste space on the exceptions, racial separatism — deliberate or de facto, power play or default position — becomes ever more inescapable in hip hop. Not to respect the impulse is to give too much slack to the racism it reacts against. But it has to trouble integrationists — because we don’t like being left out, sure, but also because it seems short-sighted. It’s not just that uncommitted fans who are given an, er, alternative will probably pass on spare purist beats yoked to in-crowd rhymes — hip hop that rejects pop music and pop imagery. It’s that there’s no guarantee the larger black audience will provide sustenance once somebody comes up with a more reassuring and legible option. One thing that can be said for Pazz & Jop’s alternarockers, including the dubious ones, is that as heirs of the dominant culture they know how to make themselves legible. A hip hopper or anyone else could be forgiven for confusing K. McCarty and Lisa Germano at a distance, but in sound and sense, the distinctions between them are still broader than the quite real distinctions that differentiate Nas and Jeru.

What’s more, this counts for something. Pazz & Jop rewards legibility — pop hooks, pop success — and that’s as it should be. Of course it’s about aesthetics, about the enduring satisfaction experienced listeners find in their records. And right, surface meanings don’t endure as reliably as the stuff you can hear. But one way or another this is still pop music, and for most of us, sharing its outreach validates and enriches its satisfactions. The belated Nirvana revolution produced broad-based sales on a scale that was only a projection in 1991. It sweeps into prominence one- (or two-) hit platinum (or multiplatinum) wonders like Weezer and Offspring (two album mentions each) as well as non-Billboard 200 critics’ choices like Sebadoh and Guided by Voices. And if it’s a trifle giddy in its self-regard, its landslide here was assured as much by generalists swept away by a cresting subgenre as by the Amerindie bloc. Even at that, had our electorate been approximately 15 per cent African American, as were our invitees, rather than 8 per cent, which is what we got back, we would have gotten a more useful overview of the nation’s hip hop succés d’estimes. My guess: baby gangsta Warren G still on top, Wu-Tang a finisher, Biggie Smalls well up from 68, Public Enemy and the Digables (and Jeru) holding if they’re lucky.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692608″ /]

Generalizing about blocs is tricky — most African American critics, for instance, are not hip hop specialists (and many who are don’t credit our vote any more than the government’s). Still, I’m struck by the third-place reissue — Bar/None’s Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, by ’60s Mexican pop-mewzick orchestrator Esquivel. Esquivel is a wild-eared kitschmeister whose vogue is generational — over-40s won’t give him try two because he reminds them of the hi-fi pap their parents used to drive them out of the rec room with. But beyond pomo’s weakness for anticanonical nose-tweaking, his demographic edge was Bar/None’s mailing list, which reaches lots of youngsters who may not see a free reissue all year. No matter how shrewd you are at the used-CD store, you can only vote for records you hear; a slab of world-historical genius like the Louis Armstrong box made 34 ballots instead of 150 because no more than (a wild guess) 60 respondents were serviced with it. And that isn’t just because publicists are chintzy with big-ticket packages — it’s because many voters receive only “alternative” product, if that, from the major labels. As rock history expands in every direction, it’s damn near impossible to become a young generalist, and the majors, for whom ’zines and local weeklies are an adjunct of the boutique marketing that now complements all blockbuster strategies, don’t care if they make things worse — specialists are ideal chain-gang fodder. For somebody so balmy as to still believe in criticism, this is tragic. I’d like to think that, given the chance, many young crits would find Slim Gaillard (eight votes, not bad considering) pretty anticanonical. Unlike Esquivel, he means to be funny.

Of course, that’s assuming young alternacrits want to become generalists. In fact, most of them can’t be bothered, especially when it comes to contemporary pop, defined by purists as what happens when a record on Matador is distributed by Atlantic and by triumphalists as the shallow stuff dumb people buy instead of Guided by Voices, Johnny Cash, Tall Dwarfs, or Anal Cunt. And to me insularity on this scale looks suspiciously like a species of, well, suicide. Hegemonic sez who? In the world where people buy their records, our assembled tastemakers’ landslide is merely a thriving pop-music taste culture. My hope is that — like alternacheerleader Renée Crist (see “Fun Matters”), who’s probably too openhearted to be typical — alternacrits and the subculture they represent are intelligent enough to put out a few feelers when the truism that it can’t last hits home as truth. My fear is that a taste of power will put the kibosh on whatever chance the alternarock bohemia had of not ending up yet another self-contained enclave in a balkanized Amerikkka where one citizen in eight now pays a community association to police the streets.

The strangest thing about our national-election commentary this year is that with a few notable exceptions there wasn’t any — especially from alternacrits, who had plenty to say about Courtney’s flawed feminism, who’s really punk, and whether Minty Fresh is a Geffen front. The mood I sense is that Washington is them, alternarock is us, and let’s hope the twain never meet, because we’ve now got a big enough piece of the pie to feed us in perpetuity. Not the whole pie, even in music-biz terms, not actual hegemony, but we’re not greedy. As indicated, I think this is deluded. Since the right-wing agenda is as much cultural as economic, a reaction to everything “the ’60s” are thought to have done to this happy land, direct attacks on weirdos correctly perceived as modern hippies are inevitable once hippie sellouts like Bill’n’Hill are out of the way — that is, yesterday. If alternarock should prove more a fad than seems likely, our piece of pie will shrink pronto. And while alternarock had developed a solid infrastructure well before the big boys started throwing money at it, key components of that infrastructure are now in peril — left-of-the-dial radio, college loans, relatively humane public-service jobs, and the whole edifice of middle-class leisure on which slackerdom is based. But why fool around? The main reason alternarock separatism bothers me is that I think it’s wrong. It isn’t just intellectually bankrupt for critics to ignore or dismiss music that doesn’t fall into their laps — by which I mean not yet more indie obscurities but hip hop, dance music, straight pop, and, increasingly, a canon that ought to be understood before it’s rejected or reconfigured. It’s also morally weak. So there.

I say this in full confidence that some will ponder and others jeer, and I’m Dutch uncle enough to believe both responses are healthy. We always need young jerks pumping obscurities no matter how useless 95 per cent of them are. For years I’ve been grousing about the ideology now dubbed lo-fi — the notion that poorly engineered records are aesthetically and spiritually superior to ones where you can hear separate instruments and make out some of the words. One of my problems with Live Through This, in fact, is that I suspect it shortchanges Hole’s guitar sound — Courtney’s singing is lo-fi enough on its own. And one reason I love MTV Unplugged in New York is that I can hear Kurt’s every creak. But as it turns out, my three favorite 1994 albums deploy the lo-fi idea instead of stupidly embracing it. Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star cuts the modest gloss of Dirty and Goo with a textured evocation of where Sonic Youth are going and where they’ve been. Mellow Gold uses sounds of vastly disparate purity to create a convincing neorealist environment for Beck’s best-recorded and best recorded songs. And the Latin Playboys — David Hidalgo, Louie Pérez, Mitchell Froom, and Tchad Blake, whose big statements on Kiko I found sententious, cautious, and, well, overproduced — construct dream music that reveals ambient techno for the cerebrum trip it is. Without considering content or zeitgeist, I made Latin Playboys my No. 1 because it was the most beautiful record I’d heard in years. But in a separatist year when this nation’s ample xenophobia has come down hardest of all on California’s Hispanics, maybe it has more to teach than I thought. Sure reaching out and touching somebody is a corporate hype. But like “alternative rock,” that ain’t all it is.

[related_posts post_id_1=”705021″ /]

Top 10 Albums of 1994

1. Hole: Live Through This (DGC)

2. Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Matador)

3. R.E.M.: Monster (Warner Bros.)

4. Nirvana: MTV Unplugged in New York (DGC)

5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Sleeps With Angels (Reprise)

6. Liz Phair: Whip-Smart (Matador)

7. Johnny Cash: American Recordings (American)

8. Guided by Voices: Bee Thousand (Scat)

9. Nine Inch Nails: The Downward Spiral (Nothing/TVT/Interscope)

10. Beck: Mellow Gold (DGC)

[related_posts post_id_1=”697296″ /]

Top 10 Singles of 1994

1. Beck: “Loser” (DGC)

2. Veruca Salt: “Seether” (DGC)

3. Coolio: “Fantastic Voyage” (Tommy Boy)

4. Warren G: “Regulate” (Violator/RAL)

5. Beastie Boys: “Sabotage” (Grand Royal/Capitol)

6. R.E.M.: “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (Warner Bros.)

7. Pavement: “Cut Your Hair” (Matador)

8. (Tie) Hole: “Doll Parts” (DGC)
Liz Phair: “Supernova” (Matador)

10. Offspring: “Come Out and Play” (Epitaph)

—From the February 28, 1995, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

 

 

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails— Beyond Teenybop Death Disco

With Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails coming off two shows at Radio City Music Hall and heading into Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre tonight and tomorrow, we travel back in time almost a quarter-century to music critic Eric Weisbard’s 1994 take on the “man who chose to live where Sharon Tate died.”

Weisbard describes NIN’s Downward Spiral album as “a themed set of songs about a horribly alienated protagonist who tries sex, religion, drugs, and whatnot, takes his life, then sings a song and a half from the beyond. (Are you listening, Pete Townshend?)” The reviewer is initially skeptical, opining, “In the music Reznor loves, artists reject confessional to act like carnival barkers, drawing you into the fun house: ‘Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Today we feature a foetus scraped from a wheel, sex on wheels, and a hot rod built by Jesus himself.’ The goal is to blast or pervert a listener clear out of any settled individuality.” Weisbard also points out that Reznor’s “instincts as an artist ultimately serve the superbly egotistical, needy rock star within. No wonder Axl Rose wanted NIN to open for G N’ R.” But Weisbard comes around a little later: “[Reznor’s] pose lends itself to power chords and catchy choruses. And it’s fake as…hell — even if the emotions Reznor is expressing are real to him and lots of other people too, because every self-serving gesture of failure and debasement only ends up adding to the magnitude of Nine Inch Nails’ accomplishment.” Plus the “pacing and buried surprises on this album are close to perfect…and NIN still crank stray noise like an organ grinder with a thermonuclear fuzz box.”

That should be more than enough reason for the uninitiated to head off to Spotify.

And since we don’t skimp here at Archives Central, we’ve also included Ann Powers’s review of Brutal Youth by Elvis Costello, “the vitriolic wit of a newly pissed generation,” and Danyel Smith looking into the “perfectly convoluted and confused, deep and touching, outspoken, androgynous, and achingly sexy enough to be the star of your own detailed daydreams” Me’Shell NdegéOcello.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Trent Reznor’s Soundtrack to the Apocalypse

“Is drinking apricot LaCroix going to harm my credibility?” asks Trent Reznor, taking a sip of his fancy seltzer, eyebrow raised. He’s sitting in the mock study of an airily lit studio space in Mar Vista, on the west side of Los Angeles, not far from where he lives. In his fitted black T-shirt, dark ripped jeans, and black boots, Reznor looks exactly like the brooding goth overlord who has — for nearly three decades — occupied his own private pop-cultural space as both a massive mainstream rock star and an eternally freakish outsider recluse. Reznor, at 52, is still absolutely that guy, though these days the King of Angst’s manner is genteel to the point of formality, as if Claude Rains had been reincarnated as an industrial-punk superstar. (Trent is “incredibly personable as well as very effectively guarded,” says the director David Fincher, a collaborator and friend. “He’s not a puppy. He’s more feline.”) “My natural state is one of feeling not good enough — that’s kind of where I reset to,” Reznor will later tell me. These days, though, he is also a well-adjusted grown-up who drinks yuppie soda water on bright weekday mornings. “Mango is actually my favorite flavor,” he explains. “But I just grabbed this out of the fridge.”

Reznor’s mind is still very much on last night’s Nine Inch Nails gig at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, California. As he is set to prove at the Panorama Festival on Randalls Island this weekend, there remains no more reliable source of rock’s essential blend of ecstasy and violence, of exalted disruption, than a Nine Inch Nails show. The Rabobank, in turn, is the Platonic ideal of the suburban American arena, with freshly waxed floors and clean bathrooms that smell like chemical soap and glistening hot dogs that smell like chemical meat and remarkably polite “have a nice evening” security guards who seem like chemical people. But as soon as NIN took the stage, the place was instantly infused with a rank, erotic, decidedly organic feel, as Reznor stalked the stage, vigorously shaking his head like an attack dog that’s just cornered its prey. Still, for the singer, “it was a fucking shit-show.” Rather than strike a stereotypical rock-star pose and perform in front of a wall of curated video — or “content,” as Reznor calls it, practically spitting the word in revulsion — he wanted to cover up that omnipresent scrim with a dirty sheet, illuminated by a set featuring only white lights, “and make the show about this kind of unsafe feeling,” he says. “Make it about a band playing, you know?”

LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 23: Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails performs onstage on day 3 of FYF Fest 2017 at Exposition Park on July 23, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for FYF)

The idea didn’t quite come together. “The piss-stained sheet was a pretty white curtain that looked stupid.” There followed a “harsh talk with the lighting designer,” Reznor recalls. “I said, ‘You are going to throw all this shit out and do what I said the first time. I want the biggest fucking fans in Los Angeles to blow so much smoke that we can’t stand onstage without being knocked over. I want to be the Cure in 1981. I want to be just an outline of a shitty haircut and color and smoke and noise.’ ”

All of this bummed Reznor out, because a) he treats as sacrosanct the exchange between band and audience, and b) the Bakersfield performance was meant as a shake-off-the-cobwebs practice run for a receptive crowd before the band tackles four big festival shows, the first Nine Inch Nails gigs in nearly three years. Those included a headlining slot July 23 at FYF in L.A., where NIN — as an act “in the dying genre and the oldest people on the bill” — played what Reznor calls “the Chili Peppers slot”: Sunday night, 10:45; and at Panorama, where he is set to take the stage at a similar hour on July 30. “I know what I’m doing at that point in a festival. I’m thinking” — the singer mimes looking at his watch — “ ‘If I leave now, I can miss traffic.’ Nobody wants that. I mean, it’s an honor to be asked to do it, but it’s a pretty immediate mirror to find out where you’re at.”

Consider Reznor’s current perch in life: He’s in the prime of well-to-do rock-star middle age, married for the past eight years to the singer and songwriter Mariqueen Maandig, with four children under the age of seven. “I figured if we’re going to do it, let’s go!” Reznor says of his kids. “They’re these cool little minds that are filled with an optimism and a joy.” He is also a consultant (though he probably likes that word about as much as “content”) at Apple Music, where he co-created the streaming service with his longtime friend and former label head Jimmy Iovine. And, alongside writing partner Atticus Ross, Reznor has become the maestro behind the music for all of Fincher’s films since 2010’s The Social Network, for which the duo won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. (“Surreal,” is how Reznor describes his Oscar experience. “It’s a nice little statue to have that I keep hidden because I feel like an asshole.”)

[related_posts post_id_1=”559544″ /]

Given all this, one has to wonder why Reznor would choose to spend part of an otherwise lovely Wednesday evening chewing out his lighting guy. Or worrying, as he evidently does, that he will seem somehow less vital when juxtaposed with Frank Ocean on some festival bill. “Because it might fail,” Reznor explains, simply. It’s the same reason he is making new NIN music. Last week saw the release of Add Violence, the second EP in a series that began with last December’s Not the Actual Events; the third is planned, Reznor says, for release by the end of the year. “As a piece of music without storytelling nonsense, it’s a nice EP,” he says of Add Violence. Taken as a whole, the trio of EPs will deliver what Reznor hopes is “an interesting narrative that feels important and relevant to what is happening in the world right now.” He pauses. “I sound pretentious.”

Sparkling water — preferably mango-flavored — is Reznor’s drug of choice these days, since he gave up pursuing whatever mind-alteration fueled his 1994 masterpiece, The Downward Spiral — which he famously recorded in the Hollywood Hills mansion where Sharon Tate was murdered — and partying with Marilyn Manson circa 1996’s Antichrist Superstar (which Reznor produced). But even then, Reznor was primarily driven by a perverse lust for the possibility of failure. “Let me explain,” he says, ever decorous. “I used to think I was depressed, and through therapy I’ve been told, ‘You’re not depressed, but you’re a couple quarts low. You just need to get some air in the tires.’ My way of compensating for that is to work harder, to compensate for what I think I’m inadequate about, which is…everything.”

“Part of the reason to go looking for Trent is his dissatisfaction,” says Fincher. “It’s a riptide, what Trent does. There can be incredibly beautiful melodies, but there’s always this tendency for what’s underneath it to be haunting. You have this beautiful melody sitting on top of this thing that is making you somehow dissatisfied with the beauty of it, and that’s a really interesting conundrum. It’s like those two things are nesting together. And that feels like the human condition to me. I find it soothing. It’s connected to a kind of longing that I relate to.”

[related_posts post_id_2=”560128″ /]

Reznor’s feeling of inadequacy — and his discovery of the one way he could reliably relieve it — began when he was very young. “At an early age I started playing piano and I felt like I was connected to it and it could make me feel better about myself,” he recalls. “If life was shitty, I could play piano. I had something to say through this thing.” This was in rural Mercer, Pennsylvania, where, after his parents divorced when he was six, Reznor was raised by his maternal grandparents. Music provided a sense of escape, a channel to vent that primitive sadness, but it wasn’t some brutal childhood he needed to get away from — it was the oppressive banality of small-town U.S.A. “I learned about rock music and, and I mean — being Gene Simmons…” he begins. “I know now it’s a different perception, but at the time it was like, fuck, man, that’s a lot more exciting than the gas station or a fuckin’ real job.”

Reznor always knew what he wanted to do, but it took some time to get there. “My attempts at writing were me trying to sound like someone else that wasn’t me and I knew wasn’t me,” he says. “I wanted to write political music like the Clash. Then I realized that, aside from being a Caucasian male, that’s where the similarities end.” NIN’s 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, was the result of Reznor embracing and aggressively expressing his own lameness, as he saw it. “I’d been keeping a diary that was written like lyrics and matching it up with music and not feeling like I could show it to anybody because it wasn’t really in character, because it was just guts spilled on the page,” he says. “But it had a truthfulness to it.”

It’s easy to miss beneath the gnashing synths and primordial basslines — and the way Reznor looked in his ripped fishnets and goth shag — but many of the great early NIN tracks are heartbreakingly sincere odes to that classic rock-boy theme of romantic devastation. (“All that I’ve been hearing must be true/I guess I’m not the only boy for you/How could you turn me into this/After you just taught me how to kiss/I told you I’d never say goodbye/I’m slipping on the tears you made me cry,” he screams on “That’s What I Get.” In a different setting, the lyrics could be from an early Beatles tune.) NIN may have ventured into the same dark musical space as gloomy, enraged greats like Big Black or Ministry, but Reznor’s emotional wavelength was more in line with brothers in sexually frustrated Middle American arms like the Violent Femmes and Cheap Trick.

Expressing that yearning kept Reznor going for a long, long time, through his whirlwind rise to fame after The Downward Spiral; the subsequent fall from commercial, creative, and existential grace that was 1999’s double album The Fragile; and even through his retreat to what was then his goth-lair home base in New Orleans. “Until the drugs took me down,” he says. By the early 2000s, Reznor had gotten sober and relocated to the comparative tranquility of Los Angeles.

[related_posts post_id_3=”558041″ /]

“Coming out of that hole with a new reset and a more humble approach toward my life, getting married, having a family, has provided a lot of sense of stability and home,” he says. “Like, now I fit in someplace: my house.”

One of the byproducts of that newfound stability, Reznor says, was that he began to spend more time as a living, breathing, fully conscious human. “I remembered more things,” he offers, laughing. But it also changed how he made music, and it allowed him to pursue a long list of creative desires he’d never before given himself permission to indulge. (“I’ve always wanted to be a director,” he says. “I like storytelling.”) The Downward Spiral began “with an elaborate story I wanted to tell,” Reznor recalls. For 2007’s anti-Bush fantasia, Year Zero, Reznor constructed a “world bible” to go with the album’s companion video game, which BBC America and HBO actually attempted to adapt. “They got so far as hiring a writer for it, but then it fell to shit because we never had the right writer,” Reznor recalls. “I should have just done it [myself].”

So when Fincher called asking Reznor to score The Social Network, the singer said yes. And a few years later, when, over dinner, Iovine mentioned the curated music streaming service he wanted to launch at Apple, Reznor was all about it. He’d long been “itching to go to fans direct,” as he puts it, and was tired “of being at a label where they were bitching about people not wanting to buy CDs,” he remembers. “People were interested in what I’m doing and I’m supposed to be mad at them for listening to my music? Come on, man.”

Trent Reznor, right, and Atticus Ross pose with the Oscar for best original score for “The Social Network” at the 83rd Academy Awards, in 2011

But more than that, there was a part of Reznor that had always wondered: Could he function in the straight world? The answer was yes. And also no. After spending the better part of the past few years commuting to Northern California, to the Apple campus in Cupertino, the primary feeling Reznor began to experience was one of guilt. He remembers talking to Dave Sitek, the TV on the Radio co-founder and producer. “I’d ask Sitek, ‘What are you doing?’ And he’d say, ‘I’m in the studio with so-and-so.’ Meanwhile, what am I doing? I’m in a meeting. Um…I…just…what am I doing?”

Ironically, it took a failed attempt at adapting to corporate life for Reznor to embrace being the artist he already was. “It made me feel better about saying, ‘I’m a musician,’ ” he explains. “I’m interested in these other things, but they’re hobbies. This is what I do.”

Reznor with his hero and mentor, David Bowie, in 1995

Like all sentient beings, Reznor has been hit hard by world events from the past year. “Part of the motivation for playing these shows is my increased sense of mortality,” he says, then laughs. “I don’t mean to sound overly morbid, but having friends die more frequently than before…” He trails off. Reznor was very close to David Bowie, and NIN delivered an exquisite cover of Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away” in Bakersfield. “Last year we lost someone very important to us, and to me personally,” he’d said onstage. “We were in the studio kind of messing around, and it felt like we needed to do something, to process it in some way, so we worked on a song of his that gave us some sort of closure. It felt good to us — we didn’t release it, but we’ll play it for you now.”

TRENT REZNOR

Then there’s the Trump administration and the current political tenor of the country. “Clearly I find it…disheartening,” Reznor says. But as a kid from the Rust Belt, he feels a deep connection to that part of the country, and resents the coastal liberal bubble that dismisses the realities of life back in his hometown. “When you’re not in an urban environment, you often feel left out of the conversation, and I get that. I grew up in that.” For that reason, Reznor says, he has taken extra care when talking to his kids about Trump. “Donald Trump is a bad guy, isn’t he?” Reznor recalls his six-year-old asking recently, after busting Dad indulging in what Reznor admits is a full-blown cable news addiction. Reznor responded carefully. “Look, I don’t think he’s a good guy. Some people do,” he told his son. “I don’t think he believes in science and I don’t think he believes people should be treated decently and I don’t think he tells the truth. That’s why I don’t like him.”

In more adult company, however, Reznor doesn’t mince words. “It’s tough, because the president of the United States is a complete fucking moron,” he seethes. “That’s what gets me the most — that he’s this vulgar, grotesque dope, everything I hate in people.”

And yet, even though the world he lives in now perhaps more closely resembles the existentially dreadful, morally bereft, lonely hellhole that first inspired him to put fingers to keys, Reznor is, at this stage of his life, much better equipped to manage it. For the moment, he’s choosing to participate in the resistance by simply getting onstage and trying to make people feel more alive, and thus less dug in to their own lane, whether that’s mod vs. goth or Democrat vs. Republican. “I hate that walled-garden effect, where you’re preaching to your safe audience,” he says. “I like the idea of trying to reach people who aren’t following me on Twitter.”

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings MUSIC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Nine Inch Nails+Soundgarden

Nostalgia is a dish best served loud, and even sans Death Grips’ noise-rap maelstrom, this tour’s marquee acts are beasts. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Soundgarden helped invent grunge idolatry, and can guarantee a snoutful of sludgy, telescoping guitars. At the same time and for some years thereafter (and recently), Nine Inch Nails auteur Trent Reznor made industrial pop angst a bankable concept. Expect gratuitous headbanging, tinnitus, and bruise-inducing fist-bumps galore – plus considerably inevitable confusion, among the target market, over the musical stylings of opener Oneohtrix Point Never.

Fri., Aug. 1, 7 p.m., 2014

Categories
Bars CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

FAMILIAR SOUND

Believe it or not, the ’90s have ended. In fact, it’s been three decades since Soundgarden formed and two decades since they released their most iconic album, the blistering Superunknown. This summer they plan to hit the road with Nine Inch Nails, who are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough album, The Downward Spiral. Tonight, however, Soundgarden wallow in the bygone decade at their own album anniversary show, with tickets priced at the reasonable but not accidentally cheesy amount of $19.94. Yes, the ’90s have ended, but did we ever want them to?

Mon., June 2, 8 p.m., 2014

Categories
VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Nine Inch Nails

Back in gear after a several year absence, the visceral nature of early Nine Inch Nails has given way to something more rewardingly cerebral. Reunion album Hesitation Marks plays like the sonic equivalent of a long, winding tour through fossilized wormwood. Life may not have frontman Trent Reznor as aggrieved as it once did, but his creative muse is restless, sending rivulets of synthesizer, guitar (some of it played by famous virtuosos), and percussion into ticklish electronic-pop tributaries and intersections. It’s composition as chess and narcotic.

Mon., Oct. 14, 8 p.m., 2013

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings Living MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

The Naked and Famous

The goofy name and Gossip Girl associations seem to have prevented this New Zealand synth-rock outfit from being taken seriously by American indie types. But onstage the Naked and Famous come as close as anyone in reproducing the sexy-aggro rush of late-period Nine Inch Nails; they’re pretty, but they’re also kind of reckless, too.

Wed., April 4, 8 p.m., 2012

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Thursday

Screamo pioneers Thursday tried their go at something like the Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails paradigm last year by selling a limited-edition split 12-inch/CD combo with like-minded Japanese ragers Envy online as their first post-major-label music release. Their point apparently proven, the group released new album Common Existence via indie label Epitaph earlier this year. Luckily for them, the opening bands will attract an audience likely too young to care about label politics in the first place. With Fall of Troy, Young Widows, Moving Mountains, and Kiss Kiss.

Sun., Sept. 20, 6 p.m., 2009

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Media MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Technology THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Live From Nine Inch Nails’ Retirement Party

And then, our stick-figure arms raised ironically heavenward, our fingers clenched into tight, bone-snapping balls of cartoonish fury, we all scream, “FIST FUCK!” in joyously enraged unison.

Perhaps it’s more poignant in context. The full line, from Nine Inch Nails’ manic 1992 industrial-thrash anthem “Wish,” is “Gotta listen to your big time/Hard line/Bad luck/Fist fuck.” OK, it’s not any more poignant in context. Except it’s incredibly poignant here on Saturday night, among the 500-odd NIN disciples astoundingly fortunate enough to bust into the Bowery Ballroom to revel in Trent Reznor’s 20-year celebratory wallow in profound misfortune. This is the sort of show where there are 70-odd ticketless dudes lurking outside the venue looking dolorous. How appropriate.

Trent is threatening to quit, you see. No one really believes this. (Brett Favre ruined public retirement for everyone.) But the first—and, at least here, smallest-capacity—stop on his brief, terse Wave Goodbye tour (three cities, four NYC shows) is rife with feverish anticipation anyway, an encomium and entombment for a dude whose every song already feels like a eulogy, a suicide note (“This is the first day of my last days,” begins “Wish”). So he saunters nonchalantly onstage—no fanfare, no lowered stage lights, no theme music—grabs the mic with one meaty paw (each bicep is roughly the size of his head), and launches his magnificently lean and muscular three-man backing crew directly into “Somewhat Damaged,” a somewhat slower, surlier, more nuanced industrial-thrash anthem, and after he growls, “This machine is obsolete,” ZAPPITY-BOO, an Olympic closing ceremony’s worth of aggro lighting supernovas behind him, blinding us with sweet, sweet science. Next song: “The Beginning of the End.” Next song: “Last,” as in “This isn’t meant to last/This is for right now.” Let the good times roll.

Since we’re encouraged to view this fete through a nostalgic, ferociously wistful prism of finality, let us marvel at Trent’s two-decade evolution, from doom-obsessed Lollapalooza-era titan (no “Closer” tonight, alas, “I want to fuck you like an animal” apparently being too uncouth a sentiment) to Doom-obsessed perfectionist shut-in (peace to psychotically self-absorbed 1999 double album The Fragile, the perfect way to cap off the ’90s) to astoundingly prolific Internet badass (on Shaq’s level as a Twitter-er, in his prime, before Trent triumphantly—and repeatedly—retired from that, too). He has spent the last decade finding clever ways (flash drives hidden in bathrooms, iPhone apps) to market his various dalliances (ambient records, Saul Williams collaborations), and though I can’t say any of it moves me the way The Downward Spiral did, it’s extraordinarily comforting just to have him out there, pumping iron like Henry Rollins, Tweeting like ?uestlove, antagonizing Chris Cornell like . . . a rock critic!

And even if later records like 2007’s Year Zero or last year’s The Slip aren’t his most concentrated symphonies of rage, loneliness, and abject narcissism, they’ve clearly loosened him up and thus vastly improved the older, harder, really narcissistic stuff—Saturday night, once-joyless dirges like “Heresy” and “Reptile” (which can sure fuck up a 16-year-old’s perceptions of the opposite sex, but I forgive him) paradoxically swing, somehow sound more fun. Vintage Nine Inch Nails could have aged terribly—all of that whiny synth-bashing nihilism—but now more than ever, Trent sells it as whiny, synth-bashing populism: “There’s nowhere to hide up here,” he notes appreciatively at one point. “It’s good to be back where I belong: Where I can see people.”

(He also says, “I’m too old for this shit,” which may have been true once, but he’s younger than that now.)

The big whoop tonight is two tracks from 1989’s self-explanatory Pretty Hate Machine, both stupendously cheesy and all the more satisfying for it. “Down in It,” which Trent sheepishly intros as inadvertently responsible for “the rap-rock genre”—it’s basically the evil version of “Semi-Charmed Life,” what with the extremely fast-spoken lyrics and all—now reads as very gentle self-parody, like a nü-metal Broadway-musical showstopper; it comports itself as well as a song that ends with a chant of “Rain, rain, go away/Come again some other day” possibly can.

“Something I Can Never Have” is taken way more seriously (upright bass!), a tear-jerking, wrist-slashing torch ballad (“I’m starting to scare myself,” etc.) inspired by someone or something that—and I’m just guessing here—Trent couldn’t give less of a shit about anymore and probably hasn’t for decades, the sort of ultra-maudlin, unsophisticated early work that alt-rock stars of his ilk have no problem completely abandoning in their later, “mature” years, and yet here he is, grabbing his mic stand in both meaty paws like it’s a life preserver and belting it out, that trademark just-about-to-cry-but-that-only-makes-me-tougher catch in his voice. The Broadway thing again: Sell it night after night after night, in your double role as both the Rage and the Machine, and make the tourists believe it.

We get a couple of evil-cabaret tunes like that this evening—ominously sawed upright bass, mournful piano, eerie haunted-house ephemera—including “La Mer,” one of The Fragile‘s stranger and more indulgent moments, inching perilously close to jazz-odyssey territory, but redeemed, as with everything, by Trent’s absolute emotional investment, leaning over his keyboard and hammering it out like some sort of aggro concert-hall virtuoso. The bitch is Bach. Directly in front of me, a woman in a T-shirt with “INSECURITY” printed across the back sways hypnotically to and fro like she’s at a Phish concert. It’s the quiet, intimate inverse of the “FIST FUCK!” moment, though, of course, those are way more fun: “Burn,” a medium-tempo industrial-trash anthem included on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, which gives you some idea as to its degree of subtlety, is forever my jam, at 16, 32, whatever. The crowd as a seething, grinning mass seems to go for “Gave Up,” which is fine, too: The bizarre moment when everyone raises their arms again and claps along as Trent moans, “I tried/And I gave up” is heartwarming in its complete cognitive dissonance. He never did, is the thing, and I hope he doesn’t start now.

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Nine Inch Nails+the Horrors

The man who got the phrase “I want to fuck you like an animal” on the radio, who had the gall to call Nine Inch Nails a “band,” who empowered parents to ask “Just what is this ‘industrial music?'” and who revitalized the black nail polish industry when the Cure started sucking, who showed up Radiohead at their own game, who gave Johnny Cash a goof note to go out on, who likely has more secrets than we have ink: This man, Trent Reznor, is quitting live music shortly after this four-show run. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, bring a black Bic for “Hurt.” With the Horrors.

Sat., Aug. 22, 8 p.m., 2009