Pretty Hate Machine

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Pretty Hate Machine
Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine.png
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 20, 1989 (1989-10-20)
RecordedMay–June 1989
Nine Inch Nails chronology
Pretty Hate Machine
Halo numbers chronology
Halo 1
Halo 2
Halo 3
Singles from Pretty Hate Machine
  1. "Down in It"
    Released: September 15, 1989
  2. "Head Like a Hole"
    Released: March 22, 1990
  3. "Sin"
    Released: October 10, 1990
Alternative cover
2010 remastered version cover
2010 remastered version cover

Pretty Hate Machine is the debut studio album by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, released on October 20, 1989 by TVT Records. The album is compiled of reworked tracks from the band's Purest Feeling demo, as well as songs composed after its original recording. Although it was critically and commercially successful (especially for an independent label), Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails' only constant band member, feuded with TVT Records during the album's promotion. Slant Magazine placed the album at number 50 on its list of the "Best Albums of the 1980s", commenting, "before attempting suicide in The Downward Spiral and living with the wrist scars in The Fragile, Pretty Hate Machine sent out sleek, danceable warning shots".[1]

Three singles were released from the album, the most successful being "Head Like a Hole", which has since become a staple of Nine Inch Nails live performances. Pretty Hate Machine became one of the first independently released albums to attain a platinum certification, with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certifying the album triple platinum on May 12, 2003, indicating sales surpassing three million copies in the United States. The album went out of print in 1997 because of the much publicized disagreement between Reznor and TVT. Rykodisc re-released the album worldwide in 2005, effectively putting it back into print. A remastered version with updated artwork was released on November 22, 2010.


During working nights as a handyman and janitor at the Right Track Studio in Cleveland, Ohio, Reznor used studio "down-time" to record and develop his own music.[2] Playing most of the keyboards, drum machines, guitars, and samplers himself, he recorded a demo. The sequencing was done on a Macintosh Plus.[3]

With the help of manager John Malm, Jr., he sent the demo to various record labels. Reznor received contract offers from many of the labels, but eventually signed with TVT Records, who were known mainly for releasing novelty and television jingle records. Pretty Hate Machine was recorded in various studios with Reznor collaborating with some of his most idolized producers: Flood, Keith LeBlanc, Adrian Sherwood, and John Fryer. Much like his recorded demo, Reznor refused to record the album with a conventional band, recording Pretty Hate Machine mostly by himself.

"A lot of it sounds immature to me now," he stated in 1991 of the recordings that were then two years old. "At first it totally sucked. I became completely withdrawn. I couldn't function in society very well. And the LP became a product of that. It's quite small scale, introverted, claustrophobic – that's the feel I went for."[4]

After the album was released, a recording known as Purest Feeling surfaced. The bootleg album contains the original demo recordings of most of the tracks featured on Pretty Hate Machine, as well as a couple that were not used ("Purest Feeling", "Maybe Just Once" and an instrumental introduction to "Sanctified" called "Slate").[citation needed]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Unlike the industrial music of Nine Inch Nails' contemporaries, Pretty Hate Machine displays catchy riffs and verse-chorus song structures rather than repetitive electronic beats.[5] Reznor's lyrics express adolescent angst and feelings of betrayal by lovers, society, or God.[5] Themes of despair are collocated with lovesick sentiments.[6] Pitchfork's Tom Breihan categorized it as a synth-pop album that was shaped by industrial music's "nascent new-wave period rather than its subsequent styles."[7] According to Breihan, the beats were muscular, but not in the vein of metal or post-punk, and that the most rock-inspired song on the album was "Head Like a Hole".[7]

"It's the all-purpose alternative album!" Reznor quipped. "If you want to stage dive to it, you can, but if you're a big Depeche Mode fan, you can get what you need out of it as well."[4]

Music journalist Jon Pareles described the album as "electro-rock or industrial rock, using drum machines, computerized synthesizer riffs and obviously processed sounds to detail, and usually denounce, an artificial world."[6] Tom Popson of the Chicago Tribune called it a dance album that is partly characterized by industrial dance's aggressive sound: "Reznor's electronics-plus-guitar LP also carries a brighter techno-pop element that might remind some of Depeche Mode. Things occasionally mellow out to moody atmospherics, while Reznor's vocals range from whispers to screams."[8] PopMatters' A.J. Ramirez regarded the album as "a synthesizer-dominated industrial dance record that on occasion slipped under the alternative rock banner."[9]

"I like electronic music, but I like it to have some aggression," Reznor observed. "That 'first wave' of electro music – Human League and Devo – that's the easiest way to use it. To be able to get some humanity and aggression into it in a cool way, that's the thing ... Pretty Hate Machine is a record you can listen to and get more out of each time. To me, something like Front 242 is the opposite: great at first but, after 10 listens, that's it."[4]


Prince, Jane's Addiction, and Public Enemy are listed in the liner notes as artists whose music was sampled on the album. Segments of Prince's "Alphabet St." and Jane's Addiction's "Had a Dad" can be heard in "Ringfinger", unlike the other samples which were edited or distorted in order to be unrecognizable, such as the introduction to "Kinda I Want To". A speech from Midnight Express was sampled at low volume during the pause in "Sanctified". On the album's 2010 reissue, this sample is not present, most likely due to clearance issues.


A man caked in mud screaming into a microphone.
Reznor during the 1991 Lollapalooza festival

In 1990, Reznor quickly formed a band, hiring guitarist and future Filter frontman Richard Patrick, and began the Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series, in which they toured North America as an opening act for alternative rock artists such as Peter Murphy and The Jesus and Mary Chain.[10][11] Nine Inch Nails' live set at the time was known for louder, more aggressive versions of the studio songs. At some point, Reznor began smashing his equipment onstage (Reznor preferred using the heel of his boots to strip the keys from expensive keyboards, most notably the Yamaha DX7);[citation needed] Nine Inch Nails then embarked on a world tour that continued through the first Lollapalooza festival in 1991 and culminated in an opening slot to support Guns N' Roses on their poorly received European tour.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[5]
American Songwriter4.5/5 stars[13]
The A.V. ClubB−[14]
Chicago Tribune2/4 stars[15]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[16]
Q4/5 stars[17]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[18]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[19]

In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, Michael Azerrad called Pretty Hate Machine "industrial-strength noise over a pop framework" and "harrowing but catchy music";[21] Reznor proclaimed this combination "a sincere statement" of "what was in [his] head at the time".[22] Robert Hilburn found Reznor's "dark obsession" compelling in the Los Angeles Times,[23] while Q said Reznor "scans the spectrum of modern dance" with a "panoramic vision" that is "both admirably adventurous and yet accessible."[17] Select critic Neil Perry said that record was "a flawed but listenable labour of loathing".[20] Sounds gave the album four stars out of five, noting that "Reznor has guts, and they make his Machine one to be treated with respect." and that the album was comparable to releases by Ministry and Foetus.[24]

Pareles was less impressed in his review for The New York Times, writing that Pretty Hate Machine "stays so close to the conventions established by Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and New Order that it could be a parody album".[6] Mark Jenkins of The Washington Post found the music "competent but undistinctive stuff" and believed the "angry denunciations" of songs such as "Terrible Lie" are overshadowed by the "nursery-rhyme" chants of "Down in It".[25] Tom Popson from the Chicago Tribune wrote that "the playing and production get points for introducing some variety to the industrial style, but the moments of soap-on-a-rope singing tend to cancel them out."[15]

In a retrospective review, AllMusic editor Steve Huey commended Reznor for giving "industrial music a human voice, a point of connection" with his "tortured confusion and self-obsession", and felt that "the greatest achievement of Pretty Hate Machine was that it brought emotional extravagance to a genre whose main theme had nearly always been dehumanization."[5] Upon its 2010 reissue, Will Hermes of Rolling Stone called it "the first industrial singer-songwriter album" and commended the sound produced by Flood and Keith LeBlanc, who he said "taught Reznor a lot."[18] Kyle Ryan of The A.V. Club felt that the album "remains the work of an artist just discovering his voice" and said that "20 years later, it doesn't warrant repeat listens like its successors." He found some of its synth and sampled sounds to still be dated after the album's remastering and Reznor's lyrics "mopey" and "silly".[14] In his review for Blender, journalist Chuck Palahniuk said that the album "seemed like the first honest piece of music I ever heard."[26]

Commercial performance[edit]

Released on October 20, 1989, Pretty Hate Machine was a commercial success. Although it peaked at number 75 on the Billboard 200, the album gained popularity through word of mouth and developed an underground following. Pretty Hate Machine spent a total of 115 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart;[27] the singles "Down in It", "Head Like a Hole", and "Sin", received moderate radio airplay.[citation needed]

Pretty Hate Machine was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on March 3, 1992, two years after the album's initial release, for shipping 500,000 units.[28] Three years later, it became one of the first independently released records to attain a Platinum certification.[28] Pretty Hate Machine eventually garnered a triple Platinum certification on May 12, 2003, with three million copies sold in the United States.[28] The album was also certified Silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on November 1, 1995,[29] following its number 67 peak on the UK Albums Chart.[30]


Pretty Hate Machine went out of print through TVT, but was reissued by Rykodisc on November 22, 2005, with slightly modified packaging. Reznor had expressed interest in making a deluxe edition with surround sound remastering and new remixes, similar to the rerelease of The Downward Spiral. Rykodisc initially accepted the idea, but wanted Reznor to pay the production costs.[31]

On March 29, 2010, the recording rights to Pretty Hate Machine were acquired by the Bicycle Music Company and on October 22, 2010, Reznor announced that a remastered edition would be released the following month. The rerelease included new cover art by Rob Sheridan and the bonus track "Get Down, Make Love", a Queen cover originally from the "Sin" single.[32] The 2010 reissue was mastered by Tom Baker at the Precision Mastering in Hollywood, California.[32]

"PHM 2.0 is far brighter and clearer than its original incarnation," observed Classic Rock, "but ultimately it's the strength of the songwriting… that shines through. Although that said, a super bass beef-up job on an already infamous cover of Queen's 'Get Down, Make Love' ups the sleaze 'n' grind quotient no end."[33]

Before the album's rerelease, a fan website was launched featuring touring information for Pretty Hate Machine, the videos for "Head Like a Hole" and "Down in It" (with remastered sound), the uncut video for "Sin" (a remix for the video was used) and two early live segments, one with interviews.

The album and its respective singles were included in a Record Store Day Black Friday exclusive box set, Halo I–IV in 2015.[34][35]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Trent Reznor, except where noted.

1."Head Like a Hole"5:00
2."Terrible Lie"
  • Flood
  • Reznor
3."Down in It"
5."Something I Can Never Have"
  • Reznor
  • Fryer
6."Kinda I Want To"
  • Reznor
  • Fryer
  • Reznor
  • Fryer
  • LeBlanc[b]
8."That's What I Get"Fryer4:30
9."The Only Time"
  • Reznor
  • LeBlanc
  • Fryer
  • Reznor
  • Fryer
Total length:48:42


  • ^a signifies an additional remix producer.
  • ^b signifies a remixer.


Credits adapted from the liner notes of Pretty Hate Machine.[37][38]


Chart (1991) Peak
UK Albums (OCC)[30] 67
US Billboard 200[27] 75


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[39] Platinum 60,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[29] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[28] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s". Slant Magazine. March 5, 2012. Retrieved August 9, 2014.
  2. ^ Huey, Steve. "Nine Inch Nails". AllMusic. Retrieved February 3, 2007.
  3. ^ Honan, Mathew (February 1, 2002). "Pro File: Nailing a New Look". Macworld. Retrieved February 1, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Perry, Neil (March 1991). "Hard as Nails". Select. London (9).
  5. ^ a b c d Huey, Steve. "Pretty Hate Machine – Nine Inch Nails". AllMusic. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (February 4, 1990). "Rock's Dead-End Kids Trust Only Their Own Skepticism". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Breihan, Tom (November 24, 2010). "Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine". Pitchfork. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  8. ^ Popson, Tom (January 26, 1990). "Dancing Through Disillusion With Nine Inch Nails". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
  9. ^ Ramirez, AJ (November 11, 2014). "Caught in the Machine: Nine Inch Nails' Broken". PopMatters. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  10. ^ Huxley (1997), p. 45
  11. ^ Huey, Steve. "Nine Inch Nails". AllMusic. Retrieved November 24, 2006.
  12. ^ Duemling, Keith. "Sympathy for the Devil - transcript". Spin. Retrieved June 29, 2017.
  13. ^ Gold, Adam (November 23, 2010). "Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (Remastered Edition)". American Songwriter. Nashville. Retrieved May 24, 2016.
  14. ^ a b Ryan, Kyle (November 23, 2010). "Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine: 2010 Remaster". The A.V. Club. Chicago. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Popson, Tom (December 22, 1989). "Unlikely Elvis: The Residents Thoroughly Revise The King". Chicago Tribune. pp. 69–70. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  16. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  17. ^ a b "Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine". Q. London (54). March 1991.
  18. ^ a b Hermes, Will (November 22, 2010). "Pretty Hate Machine Reissue". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  19. ^ Randall, Mac (2004). "Nine Inch Nails". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 587–88. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Archived from the original on January 18, 2011. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  20. ^ a b Perry, Neil (March 1991). "Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine". Select. London (9).
  21. ^ Azerrad, Michael (February 22, 1990). "New Faces: Nine Inch Nails". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 24, 2016.
  22. ^ Martin, Steve (1990). "Nine Inch Nails". Thrasher.
  23. ^ Hilburn, Robert (December 1, 1991). "The Freshmen of '91: Rock, Funk, Punk, Metal and Spunk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  24. ^ Traitor, Ralph (February 23, 1991). "Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (Island) ****". Sounds. Retrieved November 1, 2016. (Subscription required (help)).
  25. ^ Jenkins, Mark (February 2, 1990). "Industrial Musicians Turn Up That Noise". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 28, 2009. (Subscription required (help)).
  26. ^ Blender (21). November 2003.
  27. ^ a b "Nine Inch Nails Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  28. ^ a b c d "American album certifications – Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine". Recording Industry Association of America. May 12, 2003. Retrieved November 2, 2016. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 
  29. ^ a b "British album certifications – Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine". British Phonographic Industry. November 1, 1995. Retrieved November 2, 2016. Select albums in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Pretty Hate Machine in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  30. ^ a b "Nine Inch Nails | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  31. ^ "News about Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor at The NIN Hotline". Retrieved June 29, 2017.
  32. ^ a b "The Bicycle Music Company – Pretty Hate Machine Press Release" (PDF). October 26, 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  33. ^ Yates, Catherine (March 2011). "The hard stuff: Reissues". Classic Rock #155. p. 98.
  34. ^ Kaye, Ben (October 28, 2015). "Nine Inch Nails releasing Halo I-IV vinyl box set for Record Store Day Black Friday". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved October 28, 2015.
  35. ^ Grebey, James (October 28, 2015). "Nine Inch Nails to Release Vinyl Box Set, 'Halo I-IV,' for Record Store Day Black Friday". Spin. Retrieved October 28, 2015.
  36. ^ "Pretty Hate Machine [2010 Remaster] – Nine Inch Nails". AllMusic. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  37. ^ Pretty Hate Machine (remastered CD liner notes). Nine Inch Nails. UMe. 2010. B0015099-02.
  38. ^ Pretty Hate Machine (CD liner notes). Nine Inch Nails. TVT Records. 1989. TVT 2610-2.
  39. ^ "Discos de oro y platino" (in Spanish). Cámara Argentina de Productores de Fonogramas y Videogramas. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2018.


  • Nathan Brackett, Christian Hoard (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely Revised and Updated 4th Edition. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.

External links[edit]