Released February 22, 2006
The Definitive NIN – The Singles isn’t quite what it says on the tin. Nine Inch Nails has never been a band that releases single after single, and, as a result, a large proportion of the songs on The Singles were never actually traditional singles. Several of them are instead pulled from various soundtracks NIN contributed to (“Dead Souls,” “Burn,” and “Deep” in particular), while others are album tracks that were either promotional singles or just well-known songs in general. What The Singles does do well, however, is dilute Nine Inch Nails down to its essence, the set of songs most likely to hook in new fans.
Of the songs listed here, only “Deep” has never appeared on a commercial Nine Inch Nails release, with the band’s “halo” designation that signals that an album is part of the band’s officially recognized canon. “Dead Souls” and “Burn,” the other two songs that previously held this distinction, were included on the deluxe reissue of The Downward Spiral in 2004; “Deep,” being an oddity of a track, separated from any proper era of Nine Inch Nails, was never given that luxury, and instead floats around in releases like this one. It’s a good song with a catchy rhythm and hook, more well-known (and lambasted) for its hilariously badly-acted music video than for the song itself, but I’ve never really got why it was included on the soundtrack for Tomb Raider. It doesn’t feel like a song that matches the aesthetic of that film, but at least we got another NIN song out of it, at a time where that was very much a rarity.
Quiet Tracks is probably, in terms of composition, the most interesting of the three releases. Where The Singles demonstrated the best of Nine Inch Nails and Deep Cuts showed off songs that ostensibly weren’t well known, Quiet Tracks is all about what the title implies – songs that strip away the aggressive guitars, pounding drums, and screaming lyrics, in favor of a softer approach that Reznor has used from time to time. The track list is dominated by tracks like “La Mer,” “A Warm Place,” “Right Where It Belongs (V2)” – songs that are instrumental, or are driven by piano. One of the oddities of the collection’s track list is apparent here – the included list indicates that the version of “Something I Can Never Have” included is the version from Still, but the torrent in fact includes the studio version instead. Given that Deep Cuts inexplicably uses the song’s Still version, this was probably a simple swap error, but it’s substantial, given that the studio version of “Something I Can Never Have” doesn’t fit all that well on this album.
With no official greatest hits album in sight, despite the fact that Reznor worked on one in late 2012 before pulling the new compositions for a new album, The Definitive NIN continues to stand as a de-facto greatest hits collection, even to this day. In the age of streaming and playlists, the collection has even taken on new life, withs its track list able to be updated with songs from successive releases, allowing The Definitive NIN to be a perpetually relevant collection for years to come.