i wasn’t conscious of nine inch nails when pretty hate machine was released. in 1989, i turned 11 and whatever counted for my music appreciation at the time was mostly limited to the weekend top 40 countdown with casey kasem. it wasn’t until a couple years later that i had my first nails experience. i was about 14 by then and starting to comprehend music as an art and as pop culture phenomena. my dad had finally opted to subscribe to cable and the video for ‘wish’ was in heavy rotation on mtv, back when the M stood for "music" and not "mediocre." i was expanding my musical boundaries rapidly as the so-called "alternative revolution" was sweeping the nation.
though i was hooked by the end of the first guitar riff, i remember other, older nin fans just trashing ‘wish,’ proclaiming broken a disappointment (an understatement) compared to pretty hate machine. it became a refrain i would hear often with each new release. why those people continued to be nine inch nails fans, i still don’t understand, just as much as i don’t understand the pedestal PHM has been placed on. aside from a few stand out tracks (the opening trio is gangbusters), pretty hate machine is probably the weakest overall release in the catalog, even compared to all the weak material on the fragile. and why shouldn’t it be? it was a debut album after all, and trent has had 17 years to experiment, refine and improve his style.