Reprint Special – 20 Years of Broken

Another reprint today, this one written for the 20th anniversary of Broken back in late 2012.  This was where Yelling About Music began to falter as a blog concept – I wrote another post in January, and then the blog languished in inactivity for six months until a brief renaissance in the summer of 2013, which then gave way to a gigantic void of inactivity up until the launch of iTunes, A to Z.

I’m exhausted today, and I’d had this reprint planned for this weekend anyway, but my apologies for not having proper content today.  I know the blog’s been a little spotty recently, but now that this semester has finally ended, I can regroup, recharge my creative batteries, and hopefully be a stronger writer for 2015.  New Year’s Resolution, maybe.  Whatever.  Those don’t matter, anyway.

This post touches a bit on The Broken Movie, but we’ll dive into that horrific-but-fantastic bit of art in-depth tomorrow, to close out the Broken Weekend.  So, enjoy today, and look forward to tomorrow.

1991 was a bad year for Trent Reznor.  Following on the heels of the modestly successful Pretty Hate Machine (where TVT Records forced Reznor to work with a slew of producers that made the album their own), the label expected another release in the same vein as PHM soon after.  Trent, being who he was, wouldn’t have any of that, and toured a much darker, louder, more violent of the album, while engaging in a series of disagreements and all out fights with his label.  Eventually, upon returning to the US following an unsuccessful European tour with Guns n Roses, TVT Records demanded another “synthpop” album, and Reznor, furious that the label was attempting to box Nine Inch Nails in such a way, recorded his next release as NIN in secret with the one producer held over from the PHM sessions, Flood.  They recorded using a number of pseudonyms in various places all over the country to avoid the interference of TVT Records, while also negotiating a deal to escape the label’s oppressive control.  Finally, in early 1992, Nine Inch Nails was signed to Interscope Records, generating a vanity label for Reznor called Nothing Records.  Reznor was reportedly unhappy with the deal, but it got him off of TVT Records and with a label that would (allegedly) respect his creative desires.  Thus, in September of that year, Broken was released, becoming Nine Inch Nails’ first release on Interscope Records, and the first album released for Nothing Records.

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The EP’s sound is, predictably, an immense departure from the poppy soundscapes of Pretty Hate Machine.  Trent has stated that Broken‘s sound was inspired by the way his 1991 touring band handled the songs from Pretty Hate Machine; the album is heavily guitar-driven, with several layers of distorted guitars over heavy drums and Reznor’s significantly more intense vocals.  The album’s lyrics reflect the situation that Reznor felt he was in with TVT Records; the recurring themes of the album include hopelessness, anger, and confinement.  Glimmers of hope don’t exist in this release; to anyone listening to the album, it sounded like the words of an individual who saw no way out of the situation he’d gotten himself into.

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The album is divided into two parts: the main six-track EP, and two bonus tracks initially packaged with the album on a 3-inch mini-CD, but later added onto the EP as tracks 98 and 99 after several minutes of silence.  Reznor explained the reasoning for the original method of packaging as a way to distance the two tracks (a cover of Adam and the Ants’s “Physical (You’re So)” and a re-interpretation of Pigface’s “Suck,” which Reznor co-wrote with the group in 1991) from the rest of the EP, citing a “thematic difference” between the main EP and the two bonus tracks.  “Physical” and “Suck”, while having a generally similar sound in these versions with the Broken EP, aren’t quite as dark and both deal with different subject matter as compared to the EP itself.

Reznor’s addition of “Suck” to the album caused a bit of a problem with Pigface, specifically Martin Atkins, who took issue with how Reznor formatted the song’s writing credits.  The original Pigface version is credited “Atkins/Rieflin/Barker/Reznor”, while Reznor credited it as “T. Reznor/Pigface” on the Broken EP.  Atkins later fired back in a later Pigface release that featured the song, crediting the writing to “whatever Trent says – really – no shit.”

The album’s additional credits make several snide references to TVT and its management, with statements such as “no thanks: you know who you fucking are” and “the slave thinks he is released from bondage only to find a stronger set of chains” (a possible reference to NIN’s move from TVT to the arguably-worse Interscope Records).  Music videos from the Broken era also reference Steve Gottlieb, the president of TVT at the time.  Shots are fired at him once again in the credits of the 2010 remaster of Pretty Hate Machine, specifically saying “fuck you: steve gottlieb and TVT”.

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Another significant aspect of Broken and the era in general is “the broken movie“, a long-form music video that uses the entire EP (with the exception of “Last” and the bonus tracks) as the soundtrack to a violent film that ties together the EP’s already released music videos for “Wish” and “Happiness in Slavery” with film made to resemble an amateur snuff film.  The film was never officially released, likely due to its extremely graphic content (the music video for “Happiness in Slavery” was banned worldwide shortly after it premiered), and until 2006 only existed as a low-quality bootleg leaked by someone who’d been given a copy of the film by Reznor himself.  The most widely-circulating version of the film has “Help Me I Am In Hell” blacked out completely, most likely as a way for Reznor to identify who leaked the film (on NIN.com in 2005, Reznor implied in passing that it was Gibby Haynes).  The high-quality DVD image was finally leaked to The Pirate Bay in 2006, with comments on nin.com implying that Reznor himself leaked the film along with a DVD version of Closure.

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Screengrab courtesy of NINWiki.

Ironically, the Broken EP generated Reznor’s only two Grammys to date: one for the studio release of “Wish”, and another one three years later for the Woodstock ’94 performance of “Happiness in Slavery” (both of them being Best Metal Performance).  Reznor publicly lambasted these wins in the following years, using them as an example of how the Grammys were/are pointless and nothing but a popularity contest.

Reznor did not tour behind Broken; instead, following the release of the EP, he quickly commissioned several remixes for the EP, releasing them as Fixed at the end of 1992, and promptly began working on the band’s next full-length release, The Downward Spiral, which brought the band international recognition, and furthered Reznor’s descent into drug and alcohol use.

Broken‘s sound had a lasting impact on Nine Inch Nails’ future releases; The Downward Spiral, while musically more complex than Broken, nonetheless inherited the rage and anger that permeated Broken, diluting it with emotions of loneliness and general sadness.  Broken continued to have a presence in live shows; “Wish” in particular became a concert staple all the way through NIN’s final tour in 2009, with “Gave Up” and “Happiness in Slavery” receiving occasional play as well.  “Last,” notably, was not played live until 2007, fifteen years after it was written.  Reznor explained that the strain the song put on his voice was the reason it had not been played before, and it fittingly was only rarely played during the Performance 2007 tour.

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Screengrab courtesy of NINWiki.

There have been occasional teases since 2004 regarding a possible deluxe remastering and re-issue of Broken, likely paired together with Fixed.  Reznor mentioned the possibility of doing such a thing in 2004 on NIN’s official website; however, nothing has ever come of it, and considering that the same sort of reissue for The Fragile has been in limbo since 2009, it’s likely that Broken will never be remastered or reissued, except for a possible 25th anniversary release.

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