1992's Broken EP marked a major artistic and commercial turning point for Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. While 1994's The Downward Spiral is generally regarded as NIN's magnum opus, it couldn't have existed without Broken's searing, guitar-driven music, which served as a bridge between 1989's synth-dominated Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral's multi-layered mixture of hard rock and industrial influences.
Containing six original songs — plus a cover of Adam and the Ants' "Physical (You're So)" and a reworking of "Suck," a song Reznor originally wrote and recorded with industrial music supergroup Pigface — Reznor described the EP to Musician magazine as "the kind of record that sounds like a real band playing, but upon further investigation there's something definitely wrong with it."
But there was definitely something quite right with it, as well. Not only did Broken reach No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart, but it also included what would turn out to be some of NIN's most enduring tracks: According to SetList.com, "Wish" (which would win a Grammy for Best Metal Performance) ranks second among the band's most-played live songs, while "Gave Up" ranks fifth.
In recognition of the EP's enduring legacy, here are eight things you may not know about Broken.
1. Broken's harder direction was partly a reaction against the band's newfound popularity.
Despite enduring numerous technical and personal issues while playing the inaugural Lollapalooza tour in 1991, Nine Inch Nails' inclusion on the summer's biggest traveling alternative music festival introduced the band to a much wider audience, significantly boosting the sales of their 1989 debut Pretty Hate Machine. (The album would finally go Gold — reaching the 500,000 sales mark — in March 1992, nearly two and a half years after the album's initial release.)
The band's live sound was already harder and more aggressive than the music on Pretty Hate Machine, but Reznor also wanted his new songs to be brutal enough to scare away any fair-weather fans who might have liked NIN only because they thought it was "cool" to do so. "I wanted to be tough," he told Spin in 1996. "I was so concerned about staying 'alternative,' that indie bullshit mentality. After Lollapalooza, I had this snotty, elitist mentality — you're not cool enough to like my band, don't buy my records. I wanted to make a 'fuck you' record. It was also a bit of a knee-jerk, 'I'm not a pussy,' 'I'm not a sellout' attitude."
2. Most of Broken's songs were written on guitar.
While the music of Pretty Hate Machine was essentially industrial-tinged synth-pop, written primarily on synthesizers and drum machines, Reznor took a different creative approach when writing most of the songs that would appear on Broken. "I tried doing an album that I actually just wrote on guitar rather than my tried-and-true method of a drum machine and keyboards," he told Alternative Press in 1993. "So with the exception of 'Happiness in Slavery,' all songs were written on guitar. I was gonna make it totally stripped down to guitar, bass and drums, but as I started it I realized I could easily fall into another trap. What might sound interesting to me — because I'm not used to it — may sound like a garage band to the world. So we just took the three instruments and sampled 'em, fucked with 'em, processed them. It's kind of overboard, we did go crazy. It's kind of dense, too dense. It's over-analyzed — every song has 20 different melodies that you won't hear the first five or 10 times you listen, or maybe never."
3. Broken was written and recorded amid a vicious legal dispute between Reznor and TVT, Nine Inch Nails' label.
Reznor and TVT label founder Steve Gottlieb had been locking horns since before Pretty Hate Machine was even released. Gottlieb thought that NIN should release music that was catchy, danceable and MTV-friendly, while Reznor was committed to pursuing a darker, more uncompromising direction, and when TVT failed to pony up what Reznor felt was adequate tour support to promote Pretty Hate Machine, he sued to legally remove himself and the band from the label. The lawsuit dragged on for two years, at great financial cost to Reznor, and was only resolved once Jimmy Iovine and Interscope stepped into the fray. A deal was eventually brokered that would partner TVT and Interscope with Reznor and then-manager John Malm's Nothing label on subsequent NIN releases, beginning with Broken — whose tracks "Happiness in Slavery" and "Gave Up" would often be cited as digs at Gottlieb.
"We made it very clear we were not doing another record for TVT," Reznor explained to Spin in 1996. "But they made it pretty clear they weren't ready to sell. So I felt like, well, I've finally got this thing going but it's dead ... Jimmy Iovine got involved with Interscope, and we kind of got slave-traded. It wasn't my doing. I didn't know anything about Interscope. And I was real pissed off at him at first because it was going from one bad situation to potentially another one. But Interscope went into it like they really wanted to know what I wanted. It was good, after I put my raving lunatic act on."
4. Broken was recorded in at six different studios — including one on the site of the Manson Family's most notorious murders.
As the lawsuit against TVT raged on, Reznor — fearful that the label would confiscate his tapes — recorded tracks for Broken under various aliases at six different studios, including Santa Monica's Village Recorder, Hollywood's A&M Studios and Le Pig, Reznor's home studio in Beverly Hills. Reznor had set up Le Pig in the home he was renting at 10050 Cielo Drive, which also happened to be the scene of the August 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others by members of the Manson Family. (Susan Atkins, one of the killers, had scrawled the word "Pig" on the front door in Tate's blood.)
Despite the notoriety of the house — and the widely-held assumption that he'd rented the property as a means of further burnishing his "dark" image — Reznor claimed he was unaware of its history when he signed the lease. "On a whim, I came out to Los Angeles," he explained to Keyboard Magazine in 1994. "It was a whirlwind tour: I looked at maybe 15 houses in one day, and at that time I had no idea one of them was the Tate house. No one brought that to my attention, even though they should have." Reznor would also record 1994's The Downward Spiral at Le Pig, before decamping to an only-slightly-less spooky converted funeral parlor in New Orleans, where he built his new Nothing Studios.
5. John Lennon's Mellotron makes an appearance on the record.
While much of Broken was recorded with state-of-the-art keyboards, there was one instrument on there that literally harkened back to the original age of psychedelia: a Mellotron previously owned by John Lennon. Loaned to Reznor by film producer and Interscope co-founder Ted Field, the instrument — a polyphonic tape replay keyboard that often used by psychedelic and progressive bands to simulate orchestral sounds — lent some decidedly otherworldly tones and textures to Broken, especially on "Gave Up". "That [same Mellotron] is what you hear being played at the start of 'Strawberry Fields Forever,'" engineer Sean Beavan, who worked on Broken, told Sound on Sound in 2012. "It still had the Beatles' tape loops in there." Reznor, for his part, reveled in the irony of employing an instrument that had appeared on the "White Album," the same 1968 Beatles LP that had inspired Charles Manson to order his followers to commit the Cielo Drive murders. "We've got John Lennon and Charles Manson in here," he remarked to Rolling Stone in 1993. "Cool."
6. "Wish" has been covered by artists ranging from Behemoth and the Dillinger Escape Plan to children's lullaby purveyors Rockabye Baby!
Though "Happiness in Slavery" received more airplay at the time (reaching No. 13 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart), it was "Wish" (which only reached No. 25) that ultimately became Broken's most enduring — and most-covered — track. Polish extreme metal band Behemoth covered it for 2003 Conjuration EP, and Jersey noise boys the Dillinger Escape Plan recorded the song for Plagiarism, their 2006 covers EP. Other bands to record the song include David Draiman's side project Device, Silverstein, STEMM, Broke Box, Sheep on Drugs and German punk rockers Beatsteaks, while Brand New and Linkin Park (who included a performance of the song on Underground 4.0, their fanclub-only live EP) included the song in their live sets. "Nine Inch Nails is a fuckin' extreme band," Behemoth's Nergal told Metal Rules in 2003. "In my opinion, they are darker than 95 percent of all black/death bands ... I think 'Wish' is fuckin' great. It sounds very punk-like." But perhaps the oddest cover of "Wish" is the version included by children's lullaby specialists Rockabye Baby!, who swapped the distorted guitars for xylophones (and left out the lyrics entirely) on their 2007 album, Lullaby Renditions of Nine Inch Nails.
7. "Wish" is the only song with the phrase "fist fuck" to ever win a Grammy.
Nine Inch Nails has been nominated for 12 Grammy Awards to date, with only two wins — both of them relating to Broken. (Reznor also won a non-NIN Grammy in 2013 for his score for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.) In 1996, NIN won the Best Metal Performance Grammy for a live version of "Happiness in Slavery" (as performed at Woodstock '94), but the band's first Grammy victory came in 1993, when the original studio version of "Wish" took home the Best Metal Performance trophy, despite containing the sort of lyrics — "Gotta listen to your big time, hard line, bad luck, fist fuck" — that would usually have Academy voters clutching their pearls. (Perhaps they'd only heard the "No Bad Words" version with censored lyrics, which was distributed as a promo to radio stations.)
Reznor has always been dismissive of his Best Metal Performance wins. "Having won a couple Grammys for stupid shit — best metal performance — it's hard to feel good about the integrity of that," he told the Hollywood Reporter in 2014. "If that's how much you're paying attention to what you're giving out, why should I think that really means anything?" Shortly after "Wish" won, Reznor joked that the epitaph on his tombstone should read, "Reznor: Died. Said 'Fist Fuck' and won a Grammy." No one has managed to duplicated that feat since.
8. Prince was apparently a big fan of Broken.
Reznor was a big Prince fan — not only did he give a shout-out to the Purple One in Pretty Hate Machine's liner notes, but that album's "Ringfinger" utilized a sample of Prince's "Alphabet St.," and the "Head Like a Hole (Opal)" remix included samples from Prince's "Tamborine." So when Reznor heard through the grapevine that Prince was heavily into Broken, he was understandably flattered and pleased. Unfortunately, the lone encounter between the two artists didn't go very well.
"I was in this studio and I heard Prince was coming in," Reznor told Select magazine in 1994. "There was a time I thought he was awesome, but what a fucking creep! The rules were, you were never to say the word 'Prince,' you had to write down that symbol. You were never to look at him, or talk to him unless he approached you first, shit like that. So he shows up in a limo, wearing a fluorescent pink jumpsuit, giant hair, a cane, huge heels and a lollipop, and he's wearing the worst women's perfume you've ever smelt. He's got two giant bodyguards with him and there was nobody there who was gonna fuck with him! It turns out he wanted us to remix a track and make it harder — apparently, he had Broken in his car for a long time. So then I see him at the other end of this hundred yard corridor, and there's only me and him walking towards each other. So we're getting closer, closer and ... he walks right past me. I couldn't believe it — I don't care who you are, that's bullshit."