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Rank & File – Nine Inch Nails

Ever sit back and look at your record collection of a favorite artist and consider which albums are the best? So do we! Rank & File is our way of telling you which albums are great and which ones are garbage (at least in our opinion). There are really no correct answers here, it’s all just a matter of taste, but inevitably, there will be parts of the list that you will completely disagree with, so make sure to let us know how you would rank the albums. Of course, when compiling a ranking system such as this, there have to be some guidelines in place. For Rank & File, they are:

  • No E.P.’s (with rare exception)
  • No Singles
  • No live albums
  • No remix albums
  • If an artists discography is huge (i.e. Rolling Stones, Prince) only the top 5 will make the cut.


Nine Inch Nails

This is the list that I’ve been dreading to write. What can I possibly say about Nine Inch Nails that hasn’t already been said. More importantly, how can I convey how much this band means to me? I don’t think that I can correctly achieve either of those things. What I can do though is write about the albums as I hear them. There is some really cool stuff here. If you aren’t a Nine Inch Nails fan or if you haven’t thought of them in a while, I would encourage you to check out some of their stuff. Maybe even go buy a record (strange concept, I know). I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with what you’ll find.

Sadly, the rules exclude some pretty great stuff. Both versions of the Further Down The Spiral remix albums are really great, as is Things Falling Apart. Thankfully, it will exclude Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D, cause that record was kind of a turd. Sadly, I’m gonna leave out the Still record too cause it’s a companion piece to a live album. Phew! Alright, got all that? Good. Now check out Rank & File for Nine Inch Nails.


5. Year Zero (2007):

Just a couple of short years after the release of With Teeth, Trent announced a new album. I couldn’t believe that a new record was gonna be out so soon. I was used to waiting for 5+ years to get a new release from NIN. Now it was just about two years. Amazing! There were album listening parties held in a couple of different cities, Denver being one of them. I went, not fully knowing what to expect. Honestly, when I left that evening, I was a little bit let down (although I did get a rad bracelet, haha). I didn’t feel what I normally felt after listening to a NIN record. In spite of not being a big lyrics person, I’ve always found an appreciation for Trent’s honesty when it comes to writing. Year Zero abandoned his normal personal approach to tell the story of a greater narrative. To me, it just felt so……impersonal. So why is this record so high on the list you may be asking? Well, it’s because of all the great shit that surrounded the album and it’s release. I could never convey the full scope of what happened, but it included hidden messages, secret shows, numerous websites,  USB sticks, color changing CD’s, etc. etc. It was unreal! If you don’t know about it and wanna read about some awesome online and physical marketing, check this out. This here is a perfect example of why I still enjoy buying the physical product over downloading. The experience that this album left me with was so rich and deep that it actually made me enjoy the album more. This here is how an album should be released. Brilliant work.

Album Highlights:


4. Broken (1992):

Ranking these albums really isn’t getting any easier. I know a lot of people might wonder why an EP is so high on the list here. I guess because the album is just fucking piss and vinegar from the beginning to the end. Although the record is an exercise in violence through and through, there are so many subtle nuances that are peppered throughout that continue to surprise me to this day. The amount of work that went into this record, combined with the drastic shift in sound from Pretty Hate Machine really makes this record standout for me. On top of that, the atmosphere that surrounds the record is just so intense on all levels. In case you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and check out the Broken movie that was supposed to get released, but was deemed to controversial (or something like that). You can find info here. On top of being an amazing record that was accompanied by a fucked up but satisfying short film, the album itself had some pretty cool packaging and extras. Early editions of the record were packed with a 3″ disc containing the last two tracks on the album. Nothing super difficult to find, but still one of the pieces of my collection that makes me the happiest.

Album Highlights:


3. With Teeth (2005):

The decision for which album deserves the number three slot on my list was actually harder than deciding the number one position. After careful consideration though, I’m gonna have to go ahead and choose With Teeth. To be honest, it’s completely motivated by my personal place in life when this record came out. In 2005, I was living in in Southern California, getting fat on corn dogs and listening to The Cure on repeat (more on that here). I was running away from heartbreak and really had no fucking clue what I was doing with my life. I was miserable. I was working a horrible job selling stereo equipment to asshole rich folks (I helped make Dennis Rodman’s boat sound fantastic) and really had no future prospects for a good life in SoCal. When NIN announced that they would be doing a club tour to support the release of With Teeth, I was beyond excited. I figured that they had to play some dates in California, but the only one was at Coachella. What they did do though was announce back to back shows at the Filmore in Denver. So, I did what any reasonable, person would do. I bought tickets to both shows (in spite of not being there). Later that day, I crammed as much shit as I could into my little Honda Civic and threw away the rest of my stuff. Told my boss that he was a fucking loser and that I quit. Then drove back to Denver (through a huge fucking blizzard in the mountains) with my tail tucked between my legs. Really, the only thing that made my homecoming palatable was knowing that I would see NIN in two back to back club shows. It’s funny looking back on it now, but those shows, and by extension With Teeth, are responsible for the way my life shaped up til now. Without either of them, I would probably still be stuck in Southern California somewhere peddling electronics to celebrities and people that wanted to be celebrities. That is if the corn dogs didn’t kill me first….

Album Highlights:


2. The Downward Spiral (1994):

I’m sure as any educated NIN fan would guess, this record takes the number two spot on my list. Again, the entire album was amazing from beginning to end. There isn’t a track on the album that could be left off or changed. In fact, if there is one thing about NIN and Reznor that I feel is often overlooked, it’s his aptitude for sequencing an album. The Downward Spiral is the best example of that. The album flows seamlessly from one track to the next, without stumbling or dropping the ball. Brilliant. When this album came out, I was at the ripe old age of 13, so I was still a little young to fully appreciate it. I was just kind of learning my way around rock music and starting to find an appreciation for new things. Thankfully, my older sister Kelly was really fucking awesome at introducing me to new bands and albums. The Downward Spiral was one of those records. I still remember sitting down and hearing the drums and synth opening to “March Of The Pigs” for the first time and wondering how on earth those kinds of sounds were made. It (along with the rest of the record) literately blew my mind. Nearly 20 years later, I still can’t figure out how half the sounds on this record exist, but that’s OK. I know better than to fuck with perfection.

Album Highlights:


1. The Fragile (1999):

The battle for the number one spot was a difficult one, but The Fragile is really just too good to not give it the nod. There are a number of elements that make this my favorite record from the band, but most notably is that it offers a taste of something for everyone. Electronic (nearly danceable) songs, brooding and sweeping instrumentals, and rip-your-face-off heavy tracks are all fairly and evenly represented on this sweeping double album. This album reaches a pinnacle of songwriting and presentation that very few before it and very few since have achieved. As far as individual songs are concerned, there are so many highlights on this record that I don’t have the space (nor you the patience) to point them out. A few personal highlights though are as follows:

  • “Just Like You Imagined” is the quintessential NIN instrumental track (unless you count the aaaaaaahhhhhhh crescendo towards the end. I don’t cause this isn’t a Danny Elfman track).
  • “No You Don’t” has easily got to be the biggest “fuck you” song in Trent’s career. And that’s saying something
  • “La Mer” is a great track, but what makes it really stand out is the ridiculously hard (but easy) drum track provided by Bill Rieflin. That dude is fucking awesome.
  • “The Big Come Down” operates somewhere between noise, rhythm, and melody. Absolutely brilliant use of surroundings.

I remember going to the record store at midnight to pick up this record. Stores used to give out promos and special shit on new release nights, and they did so with The Fragile. Nothing great, but the record is cool enough that I’ve been lugging around promo flats and a plastic bag for the better part of 15 years. The first time I ever saw NIN live was also for the Fragility tour, so that probably increases my sentimentality towards this record.  I could go on and on about this record. It’s just too near and dear to my heart. Instead, I’ll just let the album do the talking.

Album Highlights:


Just Missed The Cut: Pretty Hate Machine (1989), Ghosts I-IV (2008), The Slip (2008)

What do you think? How would you rate the Nine Inch Nails albums? Let us know in the comment section below and make sure to follow Gutter Bubbles on Facebook and Twitter!

Twitter: @Gutter_Bubbles

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About the author:
Has 290 Articles

I am absolutely and unabashedly in love with music. If I could eat a huge bowl of songs for breakfast every morning, I totally would. I'm obsessive about categorization (don't mess with my chronological or alphabetical) and can't stand an unorganized iTunes library. Outside of music and writing, I love baseball (go Rockies), coffee, corgi's and going on fun trips with my girlfriend!

  1. Carrie Baze

    I still need to get my hands on a couple of these albums… Which you have inspired me to do, after quite a long streak of forgetting all about how much i fucking love nine inch nails (due to so much new music being released, changes in my taste, and my seemingly unending desire to listen to things like beirut, hot chip and Joanna newsom)… Well, that streak is over. Im getting down in it once again. Also i want to note that your favorite tracks on almost every album that i know well and adore so much, are also my favorites! You helped me love this band when i met you, whether you knew that or not, and I’m so glad you did! I just always thought you were so damn cool and smart, that i would have taken pretty much any suggestion you offered. Your blog is awesome. Keep it coming. I especially like shuffle Sundays and keep meaning to make comments. -Jessica

  2. Jessica Taylor

    Oh, and by the way, in case you were confused… I have no idea why Google+ thought my name was Carrie Baze. wtf. I think I fixed it now…


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