Mr. Self Destruct

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"Mr. Self Destruct"
Song by Nine Inch Nails
from the album The Downward Spiral
ReleasedMarch 8, 1994
Recorded10050 Cielo Drive (Le Pig), Beverly Hills, California
GenreIndustrial metal[1]
Songwriter(s)Trent Reznor

"Mr. Self Destruct" is a song by American industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails. Written by frontman Trent Reznor, co-produced by Flood and recorded at Le Pig in 1993, it is the opening track of The Downward Spiral (1994), and predicts the album's "ugly" aesthetic and mostly "angry" tone. The song also gives a lyrical background of the album's protagonist. Its title is a reference to the Soft Cell song of the same name.

Receiving positive feedback from music critics, its title became used as the official name for a tour by the act. "Mr. Self Destruct" has been remixed multiple times, with five of them appearing in its accompanying remix album, Further Down the Spiral (1995), and in 1996 Reznor granted film director David Fincher (whom he later collaborated along with Atticus Ross to create soundtracks to three of his films) the permission to use a remix of the song in a Levi's television advertisement.

Writing and recording[edit]

"Mr. Self Destruct" features contributions from Adrian Belew (pictured in 2016).

The first ideas for the song were conceived after the act's role in the Lollapalooza 1991 festival.[2] Production began after the completion of Broken (1992), when Reznor wrote a short poem. This was transformed into a prototype of "Mr. Self Destruct", along with many other songs.[3] Flood was the co-producer of the song, as with the remainder of the then-upcoming album from Reznor's project.[4]

Reznor was considering Adrian Belew (who played in several bands, including King Crimson and the live band for David Bowie) exhibited to Le Pig, so Flood made a welcoming phone call and invited him to the house surrounding the studio (10050 Cielo Drive).[5] Upon entering Le Pig he asked, "Hi, what do you want me to do?". The production team communicated back to Belew, who spoke about what tuning the song was played at. Reznor responded, "Um, I'm not sure. Probably E. See what happens. Don't worry about it. Here's the tape, [and] do whatever you want. Go!". Belew eventually recorded what became the odd ending of the song.[6][7]

Belew said of Reznor: "Trent has an astounding command of technology, old and new; he's such an intriguing person to work with, but that may have actually helped in some way. The music just lent itself to so many ideas that are in my realm."[8] He went on to collaborate on three more Nine Inch Nails records, including follow-up The Fragile (1999), the instrumental, independently released Ghosts I–IV (2008), and more recent Hesitation Marks (2013).[9]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"Mr. Self Destruct" immediately foreshadows the aesthetic and tone of the rest of the album;[10] the opening of the song features a sample from the George Lucas-directed THX 1138 of a man being beaten by a prison guard while flanked inside a jail,[11] cutting immediately to Reznor's aggressive voice delivering the verses and choruses.[12][13] These parts have a tempo of 200 BPM (like "Big Man with a Gun").[14] Reznor's casual vocal delivery contrasting with the cacophonous sounds around it.[15]

The only section of the song to feature bass is the bridge, with Reznor's vocal providing the build.[7][13] The remaining verse and chorus follow, concluding with pink noise gradually dominating the mix, before a three-second guitar loop, performed by Belew, is introduced; after repeating about fifteen times, the loop abruptly ends as the next track, "Piggy", begins.[a][17][18][19] The song is based on a D pentatonic scale.[14][15][20]

The lyrics of the song introduce the antagonist of The Downward Spiral;[21][22] who ominously calls himself "the voice inside your head."[23][24] He represents the urges of sexuality, powers of addiction, and inescapable feelings of guilt and fear.[23][25] He appears to be violent, even sociopathic, at certain points ("I am the bullet in the gun"), but also claims to represent the purposes of religion, and the ultimate, unattainable goal of all human desire.[23][26]

The lyrics employ consistent repetition; with every line in the verses taking the form "I am the ... and I control you." The chorus maintains the first-person voice as well, creating an aggressive, intimate, almost confessional tone which Reznor sustains throughout the record.[23]

Release and reception[edit]

Sputnikmusic said about the song in a review of The Downward Spiral, declaring that "'Mr. Self Destruct''s cryptic declarations of the many addictions we seem to openly enjoy are jarringly poetic, and its blistering chainsaw guitars and machine gun drum loops are an outstanding example of how aggressive yet tuneful industrial music can be."[27] Rolling Stone was also positive towards "Mr. Self Destruct", saying that "the soft passages are soft chiefly in the sense of not being loud, as if there were a really great party down the street that you were wimping out on, pumped guitars and cranking boom-thwack drum machines and what not. But almost as soon as you rush to your pre-amp and squeeze in more juice, the loud comes back in, but so unimaginably loud this time that you think your speaker coils might melt, and old man Reilly in the next apartment has already started to bang his broomstick on the wall."[12] "Mr. Self Destruct" was remixed five times for Further Down the Spiral (1995), including a remix produced by Reznor with the Nine Inch Nails live band, three remixes by JG Thirlwell, and a re-work partially produced by Aphex Twin.[28][29][30]

Media usage[edit]

In 1996, a remix of "Mr. Self Destruct" ("The Art of Self Destruction, Part One") was used with permission from Reznor in a Levi's television advertisement, which was directed by David Fincher (noteworthy at the time of the advertisement's release date for directing his breakthrough movie Seven (1995)).[31][32] Fincher later directed the music video for "Only" in June 2005, and along with Atticus Ross, Reznor later collaborated with him for the soundtracks to the films The Social Network (2010) (which won many awards) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).[33][34][35][36][37] In 2004, "Mr. Self Destruct" was featured in Man on Fire (2004), a film Reznor was involved with.[38]


All credits adapted from the liner notes of the main album.[23]


  1. ^ In a 2010 book Understanding Records: A Field Guide To Recording Practice, author Jay Hodgson names "Mr. Self Destruct", alongside with The Slip track "Corona Radiata" and Modwheelmood's remix of "The Great Destroyer" (from Year Zero Remixed), an example of feedback fade-out.[16]


  1. ^ Perry, Adam (September 20, 2018). "Nothing Could Stop Nine Inch Nails at Red Rocks". Westword. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  2. ^ Huxley 1997, p. 95.
  3. ^ Huxley 1997, p. 100.
  4. ^ Ali, Lorraine (March 18, 1994). "Making Records: Where Manson Murdered Helter Shelter". Entertainment Weekly. No. 214. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  5. ^ Huxley 1997, p. 106.
  6. ^ Steve Taylor (2004). The A to X of Alternative Music. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 165. ISBN 0-8264-8217-1. Retrieved 2011-06-20.
  7. ^ a b "Nine Inch Nails". Musician. March 1994. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010. Retrieved October 15, 2017.
  8. ^ "Rusty Nails". Guitar Player. April 1994. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  9. ^ Smith, Justin M. (November 10, 2008). "Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads". All About Jazz. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  10. ^ Sinclair, Tom. (March 18, 1994). "Review: The Downward Spiral". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  11. ^ Dan Pfleegor, Dan Caffrey, Sam Willett and Michael Roffman (July 20, 2017). "10 Nine Inch Nails Songs That Freaked Your Parents Out". Consequence of Sound. “09. ‘Mr. Self Destruct’”. Retrieved May 31, 2018.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  12. ^ a b Jonathan Gold (March 24, 1994). "The Downward Spiral". Rolling Stone. No. 678. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  13. ^ a b Moorefield 2005, p. 75.
  14. ^ a b Vienet, Rene. "Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral". Blender. Archived from the original on April 5, 2005. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  15. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  16. ^ Hodgson, Jay (2010). Understanding Records: A Field Guide To Recording Practice. London, New York: Continuum. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-4411-6950-1. OCLC 1078886717 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Huxley 1997, p. 107.
  18. ^ Prown, Pete; Newquist, Harvey P. (1997). Legends of Rock Guitar: The Essential Reference of Rock's Greatest Guitarists. Foreword by Joe Satriani; edited by Jon Eiche. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 252. ISBN 0-7935-4042-9 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Moorefield 2005, p. 77.
  20. ^ Gundersen, Edna (April 20, 1994). "Costello's 'Brutal Youth' brings back rough, classic edge". USA Today. p. 6D.
  21. ^ Huxley 1997, p. 112.
  22. ^ Mitchum, Robert. (November 28, 2004). "Review: The Downward Spiral". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  23. ^ a b c d e Nine Inch Nails 1994, "Mr. Self Destruct" lyrics
  24. ^ Garcia, Guy D. (April 25, 1994). "Nailism". Time. Retrieved September 1, 2018.
  25. ^ Limmer, Seth. (2005-01-19). "Review: The Downward Spiral". PopMatters. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
  26. ^ Med57 (2005-08-22). "Review: The Downward Spiral". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 2011-06-20.
  27. ^ lateoctober (January 23, 2009). "Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral". Sputnik Music. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  28. ^ Yackowski, Fred (October 9, 1996). "Take Off with Some Techno". Arts & Entertainment. The Strobe (4). Fitchburg State College. p. 9. Retrieved February 1, 2020 – via the Internet Archive.
  29. ^ McGill, Sean Eric (July 1995). "Further Down The Spiral". West Net. Archived from the original (transcription) on January 26, 2019. Retrieved April 26, 2018 – via The NIN Hotline.
  30. ^ Shih, Howard (January 1996). "Further Down The Spiral". Smug Magazine. Archived from the original (transcription) on January 26, 2019. Retrieved April 26, 2018 – via The NIN Hotline.
  31. ^ "Nine Inch Nails Song In Levi's Commercial". CDNow All Start Music News. September 1, 1996. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  32. ^ Runtagh, Jordan (June 24, 2013). "Licensing Tragedies: 15 Awesome Rock Songs Ruined By Lame Commercials". VH1. Viacom. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  33. ^ Fowler, Aaron (September 17, 2010). "Trent Reznor releases free 5-song sampler EP". Alternative Press. Archived from the original on August 28, 2016. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  34. ^ Graham, Bill (September 17, 2010). "Trent Reznor Releases Five Songs from The Social Network For Free; Full Tracklist Revealed". Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  35. ^ "68th Annual Golden Globe Awards Nominations". January 16, 2011. Archived from the original on April 8, 2011. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  36. ^ "Oscar - The Official Website for the 83rd Academy Awards - Winners and Nominees". February 27, 2011. Archived from the original on March 10, 2011. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  37. ^ "Trent Reznor to Score 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'". Rolling Stone. January 10, 2011. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  38. ^ Man on Fire closing credits


External links[edit]