Daphne Carr - “Pretty Hate Machine”

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this. As much as a maniac I am about NIN, I find this book light on background information on PHM and NIN.

The bulk of it is spent on “interviews” with random people about what NIN means for them. I say “interviews” in quotes as they’re formatted as monologues, it’s hard to say to what extent the content was edited by the book author after the fact. I’ll say I can relate to what they say, if not through my first-hand experience, then through the life stories of some of the friends I had in my high-school years. I can see how angry music can be a poor man’s therapist. I appreciate that the interviewees were Ohio or Pennsylvania locals, making their perspective unique in the sense that Trent was literally an everyman for them. They could see themselves in him. None of them knew him though.

The author also makes herself one of those protagonists, talking about her particular experiences in a very similar light. Unlike the other interviewees, she can articulate her thoughts very well and some of her observations around the Rust Belt, Youngstown, and Cleveland are pretty interesting. However, this isn’t what I expected from a 33 1/3 book. I mean, I read many of them at this point, and sure, there isn’t a blueprint on how to write a successful one. But when you pick up a 33 1/3 book, you do have some expectations. Most of those books go deep into the “moment in time” that lead to the particular album, they talk at length about recording, production, and the compositions. They talk about the other people involved. They talk about the publishing side of things. Some analyze the music in great detail, some analyze the lyrics. Some look forward and discuss how the particular album in question lay foundations for future work of the same artist.

There is very little of that here. Instead, you have interviews that by the fifth or sixth start being pretty repetitive. Another person from a broken family, an aspiring unsuccessful musician with a history of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Another story on how “Terrible Lie” is their favorite track and how they’re not religious but, actually, they are. Then some comments about how shutting down the steel mills was an orchestrated operation to fuck everybody over. Then some comments about how Trent later sold out and the interviewee never listened to “The Fragile” in its entirety. Maybe some criticism of Trent’s lyrics. And finish it off with some incel self-loathing or a comment on how NIN is no longer who you are.

Each interview is titled after a track from PHM but the connection there is pretty light. The interviewees talk more about TDS, “Wish” and “Terrible Lie” than the track in question. And when they do go there, they don’t have much to say. I don’t want to dunk on those people, I don’t want to dislike them. But I do because they’re just wasting my time.

The book covers “Hot Topic”, a retail chain specializing in counterculture clothing and accessories. There’s at length discussion of how it’s profit-driven, non-genuine, finicky in what it promotes, and how its customers are poseurs. This would be interesting as a paragraph or two. Instead, we get an entire chapter on it. It’s puzzling like the Volkswagen commercial section of the “Pink Moon” 33 1/3.

Still giving it ★★★☆☆ because I enjoyed the parts where Daphne speaks in her voice. The background discussion of the time and place in which PHM was created was valuable to me. I wish for a version of this book with the interviews cut down to short quotes, and the rest of the reclaimed space spent on direct analysis of PHM, maybe an interview with Trent and other musicians involved in the album. Like, Flood and John Fryer would be awesome to hear from.

What are some good 33 1/3 books then? Let me recommend three that are absolutely not alike but each one presents fantastic insight into the work in question. “Selected Ambient Works, Volume II” is probably my favorite. “Murmur” is very good too, closer in genre to what we’re discussing here. Finally, “Bitches Brew” is a riveting narrative on an album that I’m not even that fond of.