20 Years of Nine Inch Nails (Part 3)
By Karen on Tuesday 13 October 2009, 21:31 - Permalink
Little-known fact: The video for The Perfect Drug was created for the sole purpose of giving bloggers cool screenshots to work with. True story.
As luck would have it, my NIN fandom was at its height during the period where NIN could not be bothered to release a damn thing; maybe it was one of those absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder sorts of deals.
There was a five-year gap between the release of The Downward Spiral in 1994 and The Fragile in 1999 (technically, Further Down the Spiral was released in 1995, however that contained remixes of TDS tracks done by other artists than NIN, meaning that calling it a NIN album is a bit of a reach.) That's a long wait between albums, especially in an industry where the average shelf life of a band is only a few years to begin with.
At the time, Trent Reznor was distracted by outside projects; scoring the David Lynch film Lost Highway being one, and an ill-fated collaboration with Tool frontman Maynard James Keener another. While Reznor received accolades for his work on Lynch's film, the Reznor-MJK project, tentatively titled Tapeworm, is credited with the creation of only one commercially-released track. The idea of a NIN/Tool crossover however has proved so appealing to so many fans that Reznor claims that he has now spent more time answering questions about Tapeworm after the fact than he and Maynard ever spent working on it. For hard rock fans, it seems Tapeworm will forever be 'the one that got away', a kind of holy relic of 90's rock.
If it was a sparse time for NIN, it was also a confusing one. The one new song NIN released during the era, The Perfect Drug, was credited to NIN; however, other short instrumentals on the Lost Highway album were credited to Trent Reznor individually. Was Trent branching out as a solo artist, at least in the realm of film? Was NIN becoming a truly collaborative act, necessitating the distinction between the band and Reznor himself? Would any of this matter whatsoever unless any of the above parties got down to business and recorded the next stupid album already?
Reznor has admitted in recent years that the gap between albums was largely due to fear; after the tremendous critical and commercial success of The Downward Spiral, he was afraid that he was destined to be called a has-been pretty much regardless of what he did next. Unfortunately, though his procrastination may not have helped matters any, his fears proved to be well-founded: it took an album or two for people to accept that NIN would not, could not, make the The Downward Spiral again (not on a boat, not on a train, not with a pig, not in a wig, not in New Orleans, not with a walrus. Sorry.) Nevertheless, in 1997 we did get to hear The Perfect Drug-- like an oasis in a desert with no NIN, which come to think of it would be like most deserts, but c'est la vie.
The Perfect Video
If the Closer video was a worthy addition to the song, the The Perfect Drug video took the "Music video that actually has a legitimate artistic reason to exist" concept to a higher level: the video is better than the song. In one sense, the video justifies the song.
It might seem obnoxiously pseudo-intellectual to presume that a song needs justification to exist, and I suppose it is, but The Perfect Drug presents a bit of a strange case. Ostensibly written for The Lost Highway soundtrack, only one tiny part of the song actually features in the movie- a tiny part with no vocals, incidentally. While The Perfect Drug was technically a single, the actual song did not appear on the commercially released EP- only a collection of remixes, something that annoyed me tremendously at the time (maybe it's just me, but when I buy CD single, I'd kind of like the actual song to be on it.) While the song has many interesting features and was nominated for the Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy Award in 1997 (one of NIN's twelve Grammy Nominations, two of which were wins), it usually doesn't make appearances on fans' "Top 3 NIN Songs" lists. It's solid, impressively experimental, and catchy, but lyrically a bit derivative of NIN's previous material.
Where Mark Romanek got the idea to turn TPD into a gothic, Edward Gorey-inspired visual feast, I'll never know. But at some point, the video ceases to be a Nine Inch Nails product and becomes Romanek's Opus. He somehow coached a believable performance of a distinct character out of Trent Reznor, who had never played anyone but himself in videos (albeit with some showmanship.) In TPD, instead of Reznor we have a haunted nobleman in a dark Victorian estate morning the loss of either a woman, a child, or both-- it's hard to tell. More importantly, the video has the nerve to reach for grandeur and actually captures it.
Goatees: Should only be acceptable in this video, and POSSIBLY on Hugh Jackman. That is all.
At first glance, it looks more like a trailer for a feature film than a music video-- it's so fully realized that you believe there must be more there, more than this few minutes of film accompanying this strange song, equally soothing and cacophonous. Some people have expressed the wish that this video be expanded upon and made into a feature film; I think that would be redundant. It is a film; Romanek just did away with the need for things like "dialogue" and "running time."
Next time, I get into the second half of NIN's discography with The Fragile, Things Falling Apart, and And All That Could Have Been. You realize that by the time I get to Ghosts, I'll have probably have such commentary-exhaustion that the entry will read "NIN made album with no wurds, wuz good!", but we'll see.