The Verge Playlist: Nine Inch Nails track-by-track

My Nine Inch Nails Verge Playlist was meant to dig into the lesser-known side of the band’s catalog — but the great thing about NIN is that another fan could make a similar list and have 18 completely different songs. With that in mind, I wanted to put together a little companion piece to walk the listener through my choices and why they ended up here. While this list is focusing on deep cuts, it also probably has 75 percent of my favorite NIN tunes, period.

Somewhat Damaged: A classic build-up starts this track off, and it’s a great example of Reznor’s game plan for The Fragile. There’s a lot of organic, imperfect stringed instruments on that album that he tortured and paired with NIN’s signature electronics, and the persistent acoustic guitar that forms the backbone of this song exemplifies that strategy perfectly.

All The Love In The World: A few more NIN hallmarks on display in this song, in particular Reznor’s love for a good, funky bass riff alongside his chaotic arrangements. Pretty much every NIN album has at least a song or two with a great groove, and this is one of my favorites. The first half is quietly unsettling, but the second half — led by Dave Grohl’s drumming and the aforementioned bass — just rocks.

Letting You: Late-era NIN, a song from the band’s 2008 album that typifies the more in-your-face qualities of the band. “Propulsive” might be the best word to describe this song. Any number of tunes off Broken could have filled this role, but I wanted to go with something a little less well-known while still achieving the same result.

Sanctified: Picking songs off Pretty Hate Machine was a real challenge. Unlike the rest of NIN’s output, this album sonically sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, the songs are classic, and this is one of my favorites. It’s a pretty creeped-out song, but the buildup and the chorus are catchier than they have the right to be. Fits well here as a little cool-down.

Vessel: Year Zero is one of my favorite NIN albums, and I really enjoyed how much of it focused on pure electronics — there’s a lot less live drumming on it compared to the albums that came directly before and after it. The last couple minutes are pure NIN noise at its best, and were pretty stunning to hear performed live alongside the wild visuals put together for the band’s 2008 tour.

Kinda I Want To: Another PHM track, tough to place but has some of the same noise-rock characteristics as Vessel, so it felt like an appropriate place for it. There’s an interesting sense of immaturity in many of PHM’s songs — they aren’t nearly as timeless as the music that came later, but that’s part of what makes the album so enjoyable. It’s fun hearing Reznor at work before he became the meticulous control freak he evolved into over the years.

Closer (Precursor): Wait, Closer? Arguably NIN’s biggest hit? Not like you've heard it before... this version felt like a good way to introduce another of the group’s hallmarks: a positively massive remix catalog. Nearly every album has been remixed, not to mention the many remixes that crop up on the band’s singles. "Closer (Precursor)" is one of my favorites — particularly because of its excellent use in the title credits of David Fincher’s Se7en. Even out of that context, it stands up as a familiar but highly unsettling piece of music.

Eraser: Unbelievably potent live, a classic example of the loud / soft shifts that NIN employed so effectively, and just a really interesting piece of music, "Eraser" is one of The Downward Spiral’s less conventional high points. There’s a trend in this playlist to favor thick, growing, mutating, layered musical textures; this is one of the best examples of that building process that Reznor is so skilled at executing.

Ripe (With Decay): The first instrumental track of the playlist, and another fight between the organic and the electronic. While there’s no doubt that double album The Fragile was a bit self-indulgent at times, with seven instrumental tracks of varying quality, the album’s closing track put a stamp on the fractured journey that came before it. While there were a few moments of positivity that cropped up throughout The Fragile, it’s hard to feel good about what came before when you end an album like this.

The Day The World Went Away: Right in the middle of the playlist comes a moment of peace. The original version of this song was a strange one, but it worked much better as a live tune, and in this stripped-back, minimalist setting it is even more effective.

Beside You In Time: Another oddball tune here. When playing it live back in 2005, NIN used it as a way to transition out of the quieter portion of its show, so I’m doing the same here. It’s all about the buildup and release on this one.

Mr. Self Destruct: NIN almost always follows up the middle, more tranquil part of its live show with an absolute bone-crusher, and "Mr. Self Destruct" remains one of the most uncompromising, rage-filled songs in the band’s discography. As an opening track on The Downward Spiral, it does a great job setting you up for the depths that are to come. Another prime example of the loud / soft shifts that NIN used so well — when the breakdown comes in this song, it’s so abrupt you might think your speakers stopped working.

Happiness in Slavery: While most of this song continues the theme of “brutal, in your face rock,” the chorus sneakily slips in some pretty funky grooves. It doesn’t last long, but it injects a bit of much-needed levity into the song. It’s particularly effective sans-vocals as a musical breakdown in the song’s latter half.

The Good Soldier: I love the music in this song, but the first thing I think of when it comes to “The Good Soldier” is the lyrics — for once, Trent’s not screaming about himself. The whole Year Zero album took Reznor away from the typically introspective world he lived in and instead had him writing about a dystopian future and the citizens who inhabit it. While Reznor never win an award for lyric-writing, it’s enjoyable to see someone working outside of their comfort zone.

I Do Not Want This: Listen to this one with headphones on. You should listen to the whole playlist with headphones on, but this one in particular has a lot of ear candy, especially the murky lyrics buried below layers of noise in the pre-chorus build-up. This song’s structure is particularly unusual, on an album full of songs that go off in unexpected directions, and that makes it a joy to listen to (even once you know it inside and out).

Just Like You Imagined: As I mentioned earlier, The Fragile has its fair share of indulgences, but this instrumental is not one of them. It’s relatively short, to the point, and keeps growing and building until an explosive and extremely satisfying conclusion. If only all of NIN’s instrumentals were this effective.

In This Twilight: The penultimate song on Year Zero as well as this playlist, NIN used it quite often to close shows during its last few years on the road. It’s best when paired with the song that follows it...

Zero Sum: Sure, it’s no “Hurt,” but then again few songs are. “Zero Sum” is a perfect closer for all that came before it on Year Zero, and hopefully you all find it a fitting conclusion to this personalized trip through NIN’s music as well.