VERSUS: Nine Inch Nails VS Soundgarden

Seeing as how these two behemoths are touring together this summer, and seeing as how The Downward Spiral and Superunknown just turned 20 (both albums were released on March 8th, 1994), and seeing as how it’s been ages since I’ve done one of these, let’s do it!

THE CONTENDERS:

NINE INCH NAILS – The Downward Spiral

NIN - The Downward Spiral

SOUNDGARDEN – Superunknown

Soundgarden - Superunknown

THE STATS:

LABEL TYPE:

Nine Inch Nails: Major (Nothing, Trent Reznor’s now-defunct imprint under Interscope)

Soundgarden: Major (A&M)

TOTAL LENGTH:

Nine Inch Nails: 65:02

Soundgarden: 70:13

NUMBER OF SONGS:

Nine Inch Nails: 14

Soundgarden: 15

NUMBER OF SINGLES:

Nine Inch Nails: 4 (March of the Pigs, Closer, Piggy, Hurt)

Soundgarden: 5 (Spoonman, The Day I Tried To Live, Black Hole Sun, My Wave, Fell On Black Days)

PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: Yes

Soundgarden: Yes

MULTI-PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: Yes

Soundgarden: Yes

QUADRUPLE-PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: Yes

Soundgarden: Yes

QUINTUPLE-PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: No

Soundgarden: Yes

DIAMOND SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: 20,000,000 units sold? Hell no. What are we, The Eagles?

Soundgarden: What he said.

CREEPY MUSIC VIDEO?

Nine Inch Nails: Oh yes.

Soundgarden: Black and white is creepy. Sort of. Isn’t it?

REALLY STEREOTYPICAL 90’S MUSIC VIDEO?

Nine Inch Nails: Not really.

Soundgarden: Can, can we “pass”? Is that an option?

No? Fine. You suck.

MUSIC VIDEO WITH, LIKE, A BUNCH OF SPOONS, AND THERE’S A GUY PLAYING THE SPOONS AND STUFF AND HEY THERE’S SPOONS

Nine Inch Nails: Ummmm….?

Soundgarden: SPOONMAN FOREVER

LOST A GRAMMY TO ALANIS MORISSETTE?

Nine Inch Nails: Yep (Hurt, 1996 Best Rock Song [???? not sure how we wound up there], to Morissette’s You Oughta Know)

Soundgarden: Negative.

LOST A GRAMMY TO BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN?

Nine Inch Nails: Nope.

Soundgarden: Yes (Black Hole Sun, 1995 Best Rock Song, to Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia)

Nirvana: Us too. Same year, for All Apologies. NOT THAT WE GIVE A SHIT.

Melissa Etheridge: GUYS. I lost to Springsteen in ’95 twice – for Come To My Window *and* for I’m The Only One. The same goddamn category.

SOUNDS LIKE:

Nine Inch Nails: It’s kind of hard to put into words – have you ever been coming down off of a 5 Hour Energy in the dead of night, and you feel kind of sick, but really alert, and your mind is playing tricks on you, like tossing up phantoms and agents of despair just outside your periphery, and you think about just how nice it would be to sleep right now, for hours and hours, but no, not here, it’s not safe here, and high above you, there’s a lone street lamp, and it’s flickering, its protective halo twitching in and out of existence, twisting a knife into your senses every time it does, and suddenly you get hit with a flood of regrets and sorrow, and your knees start to buckle, and you’re worried you might fall, and then you realize that you’re already on the ground, and that streetlight is pulsing now, madly, and it’s gunning for your soul, and you’re slowly being suffocated with the realization that this really is it, and oh god, it’s all collapsing, and that light’s going to be gone, and you’ll be left in this nightmare world that you can neither understand nor survive in, and you’ll lose your limbs here, surely, because you know you can’t keep them just the same as you know you can’t keep your mind from burning up and dissolving into wisps of ash in the madness of it all, and then the light goes out, and you’re hopelessly, inexorably lost for all time, or at least until Hurt is over? It’s kind of like that.

Soundgarden: The best the radio has to offer in 1994.

ALBUM HIGHLIGHT:

Nine Inch Nails: March of the Pigs – it’s so weird. It’s got that off-kilter rhythm (the song’s in 7/8 time), and those piano breaks are absolutely absolutely brilliant – though you’d never guess they were coming the first time you hear it.

Soundgarden: This is going to sound nuts, but I really love Kickstand – it’s like this 90 second rock hurricane that swoops in near the end of this batch of really great but really insistent songs.

SUPPORTING BANDS DURING INITIAL ALBUM TOUR

Nine Inch Nails: Marilyn Manson and Type O Negative

Soundgarden: Tad and Eleven

…TAD AND ELEVEN??

Nine Inch Nails: You’re being an asshole. Stop it.

Soundgaren: ROCK.

THE WINNER:

DRAW

You didn’t honestly expect me to pick one of these over the other, did you? I mean, I know it’s kind of a cop out, and when I started this, The Downward Spiral did have the edge – but after listening to both albums back-to-back, I just can’t choose one over the other. They both do very different things exceptionally well, and they’re perfect musical statements of the time. Stuff like this just doesn’t go platinum anymore, let alone multi-platinum, and it probably ever won’t again. The spectrum has changed considerably since 1994, and the grungy, industrial frequencies got boxed out. This isn’t bad any more than it is good. It just is. It’s what happens; culture changes, technology changes, music changes. Did you know that Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven, released a mere two weeks after The Downward Spiral and Superunknown, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200? That would *never* happen now.

Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails both have new-ish albums (the latter released Hesitation Marks in 2013, while the former released King Animal in 2012) – and as of this writing, both albums have failed to even go Gold in the US (500,000 copies sold). Granted, you can’t just carve a throughline across 20 years and wipe your hands of it – but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Both The Downward Spiral and Superunknown can be streamed in their entirety on Spotify, and you can purchase them basically anywhere if you don’t already have them. Also, on Record Store Day (April 19th), Soundgarden is releasing this thing.

1994. What a year!

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