Cover #9 is “Reptile” by Nine Inch Nails, released on the album The Downward Spiral in 1994, written by Trent Reznor.
The Downward Spiral blew my mind wide open as a teenager. It was dark, and dirty, and scary, of course – all things teenage boys love – but it was also intense, intelligent and full of sounds. Weird sounds. Creepy sounds. Beautiful and strange sounds. Flies buzzing… as an instrument. Drums that sounded like machines. Machines that sounded like drums. Synthesizers that sounded as brutal as bombs.
That’s why I grew up to be a one-man band. Granted, if Trent “Nine Inch Nails” Reznor is Edgar Allan Poe, then Andy “Pluto Tapes” Hicks is like a seventh-rate Herman Melville. But that passion for production, and the idea of using noise to tell a musical story… I love that.
Now: “Reptile”. It shows up late on The Downward Spiral. TDS is sort of a concept album – the songs basically follow someone who loses everything after a chance encounter with a truly evil character (“Mr. Self Destruct”). The character experiences ennui (“Piggy”), loss of faith (“Heresy”), and finally, descends into anarchistic violence (“March Of The Pigs”). When he loses the ability to love (“Closer”), he realizes he’s given up control to this other person (“Ruiner”, “The Becoming”), tries to fight against it (“I Do Not Want This”) but eventually gives in and commit some sort of massive act of violence (“Big Man With A Gun”). He surveys the damage (“A Warm Place”), realizes what he’s done and believes he can’t be forgiven (“Eraser”), decides to end it all (“The Downward Spiral”) but fails somehow and has a certain awakening, wishing to start again and be forgiven (“Hurt”). Needless to say, when I was 16, this was the deepest fucking thing I’d ever heard, maaan.
Now, the thing about Nine Inch Nails is that, while there had been industrial bands before, they were the first ones to factor in the human equation: the red, meaty, pumping heart inside the wires and metal. The music was anything but sterile and computerized, even though computers obviously played a huge part in its production. It was messy, in a good way. “Reptile” is where our “hero”, realizes he has nothing left and has ruined his life and that of others, and winds up going to a prostitute on the night before he ends it all. She takes him in and provides a small amount of comfort, but he can only focus on how filthy and guilty he feels. It’s very noir.
It ain’t perfect. The whole album, when I listen to it now, still stands up as a work of dark genius, but it’s very self-obsessed. What was the whore thinking, for instance? What did the narrator do, to begin with? He obviously feels guilty, but why? How did it affect others? And did he do whatever-it-was “to see if he could still feel?” as he sings in “Hurt”? Cuz if so, he’s not a dark and troubled anti-hero, he’s just an asshat with a long coat. Still, musically, this thing is bloody great and you need a copy.
“Reptile”, on the album, is based on a beat provided by a robot or photocopier or something. My version isn’t. Mine’s drums and acoustic guitar, with a little bit of piano. And I think it works because the point of NIN wasn’t the big scary guitars or the industrial drums, it was the songs and the sonic texture of the sound. This is probably blasphemy, true, but when, fellow NIN fans, has a little blasphemy ever stopped us?
Download here. Not making any money off this, broke, just doing it for fun, don’t sue me, broke. Thanks.
Next time:… The one you’ve been waiting for.