Song: "Something I Can Never Have"
Album: Pretty Hate Machine
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Though it is not an uncommon occurrence, in most cases, it is rather difficult for a band known for their aggression and volume to tone things down and record a more melodic, perhaps ballad-esque song. In most cases, the resulting song becomes little more than a novelty for the bands' most devoted fans, and it is rarely pulled out for live performances. As one pushes into the heavier and louder styles of music, such instances become more infrequent, and yet it is within these few musical moments that one can find some of the most stunning recordings ever made. While many bands went for either sheer volume or pure theatrics to convey their moods, there was one performer who was able to master both, and in the process, he created an entirely new genre that remains to this day. Taking a firm grasp on all of the technology that was available at the time, along with influence from bands like DEVO and Einstürzende Neubauten, the world was simply not prepared for the sonic assault that came courtesy of Trent Reznor and his most well-known project, Nine Inch Nails. Coming out of seemingly nowhere, one would be hard pressed to find a more impressive debut than his 1989 release, Pretty Hate Machine, and to this day, the record still knows few, if any, equals. From the crushing "Terrible Lie" to the rather surprising hit "Head Like A Hole," Pretty Hate Machine is a musical journey like no other, and yet one can easily make the case that the hidden gem of the album is the dark, reflective song, "Something I Can Never Have."
Though the entire persona behind the so-called "industrial" sound that Reznor brought into the mainstream is that of being loud and aggressive in a way far distant from heavy metal or punk rock. Filled with sounds and energy that replicate those of large machinery with a uniquely futuristic feel, there is never mistaking the sound of industrial metal for any other style of music. Furthermore, an ominous, darker mood tends to overshadow nearly every song in the history of the genre, and yet with "Something I Can Never Have," Reznor proves that the exact same mood and intensity can be achieved with a comparatively minimalist musical approach. As the music fades into the track, there is an almost post-apocalyptic mood, and the lone piano remains today one of the most truly haunting melodies ever committed to tape. It is this piano, played by Reznor, that is the only instrument to run throughout the course of "Something I Can Never Have,"and it keeps the somber, almost desperate tone of the song intact. The more common industrial-style musical elements come into play as the programmed drums enter during the first bridge section. Though they are just as aggressive as any other song from Nine Inch Nails, they somehow take on a more tragic quality due to the spirit that Reznor has given the song. "Something I Can Never Have" never moves beyond a slow, almost lulling pace, and yet it is unquestionably one of the most powerful industrial tracks ever composed.
Proving that he is far and away one of the most talented musicians in history, Trent Reznor also handles the vocal and writing duties for nearly every song in the Nine Inch Nails catalog. While in most cases, the vocals on industrial songs are shouted and often buried by the chaotic music, on "Something I Can Never Have," Reznor shows that he has a completely captivating and strangely beautiful voice. Often singing in little more than a whisper, the moment he begins singing, Reznor completely captures the listeners attention, and it does not waver for a moment until the song ends. On "Something I Can Never Have," Reznor seems to drop the entire overly-macho facade that pervades within the industrial genre and the pain in his voice is on par with the most moving soul singers in history. Along with his stunning vocal performance, the words that Reznor sings express a universal pain to a level that has rarely been matched. One would be hard pressed to find more tragic opening lines than when he sings, "...I still recall the taste of your tears, echoing your voice just like the ringing in my ears..." As the song progresses, one can feel the downward spiral of Reznor's emotions and sanity, as he presents a completely raw and unguarded view into the true destructive nature of a lost love. Touching on every aspect of loss and longing, Reznor sums up his feelings in tragic fashion when he speaks the line, "...Gray would be the color if I had a heart..." Few songs in history have been able to balance power and emotion with the same stunning results that one finds on "Something I Can Never Have."
One of the biggest problems within the world of music is the manner in which so many people write off entire genres based on the forward persona presented by those artists. While to a certain extent, this is understandable, it is often within the strangely unique moments of every genre that the true gems of those artists are hidden. Creating strange melodies within the often brutal and hostile mood that is the industrial style of music, Trent Reznor has rarely backed off from his musical vision, and it is why he stands as one of the most revered performers in the entire history of music. The 1989 debut from Nine Inch Nails stands today as an absolutely iconic record, and one cannot say enough about how much it changed the entire landscape of music. Proving that computer and synthesizer technology could be used for far more than the so-called "new wave" sound, Reznor created one of the most brilliantly dark records in history with his phenomenal debut. While the album may be best known for the three singles released, it was songs like "Something That I Can Never Have" that truly made the album something special, and the song remains one of the most overlooked musical masterpieces ever recorded. From the extraordinary, yet delicate piano to the flawless manner in which Reznor brings in the programmed drums to the heartbreaking vocals and lyrics, few songs can compare to the mood and power that one finds in Nine Inch Nails' 1989 recording, "Something I Can Never Have."