Mr. Self Destruct
|"Mr. Self Destruct"|
|Song by Nine Inch Nails|
|from the album The Downward Spiral|
|Released||March 8, 1994|
|Recorded||10050 Cielo Drive (Le Pig), Beverly Hills, California|
|Label||Interscope, Nothing, TVT|
|Producer(s)||Trent Reznor, Flood|
|The Downward Spiral track listing|
"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.
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 with 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
The first ideas for the song were conceived after the act's role in the Lollapalooza 1991 festival. 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. Flood was the co-producer of the song, as with the remainder of the then-upcoming album from Reznor's project.
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). 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.
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." 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).
Music and lyrics
"Mr. Self Destruct" immediately foreshadows the aesthetic and tone of the rest of the album; 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, cutting immediately to Reznor's aggressive voice delivering the verses and choruses. These parts have a tempo of 200 BPM (like "Big Man with a Gun"). Reznor's casual vocal delivery contrasting with the cacophonous sounds around it.
The only section of the song to feature bass is the bridge, opposing the rest of the song. This portion has Reznor singing in a quiet voice. The remaining quarters follow, ending with manipulated and looped guitar noises made by Belew, who was invited by Reznor to the production. Like "March of the Pigs", "A Warm Place" and "Reptile", the song is played in the Drop D tuning.
The lyrics of the song introduce the protagonist of The Downward Spiral; who ominously calls himself "the voice inside your head." He represents the urges of sexuality, powers of addiction, and inescapable feelings of guilt and fear. 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.
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.
Release and reception
Sputnik Music 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." Rolling Stone was also positive towards "Mr. Self Destruct", saying that the song "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." "Mr. Self Destruct" was remixed five times for Further Down the Spiral (1995), including a re-work partially produced by Aphex Twin.
In 1996, a remix of "Mr. Self Destruct" ("The Art of Self Destruction, Part 2") 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)). 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). In 2004, "Mr. Self Destruct" was featured in Man on Fire (2004), a film Reznor was involved with.
All credits adapted from the liner notes of the main album.
- Trent Reznor — vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, programming, co-production
- Adrian Belew — "texture generating guitar"
- Flood — co-production
- Alan Moulder — mixing
- Huxley 1997, p. 95.
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- Man on Fire closing credits
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