Nine Inch Nails — “Only”

Released: 7.5.05

Peak: #90

Some smart people sure set their ganglia all aflutter over The Fragile. Some dumb ones too. As for Trent Reznor, the question as to which group he belonged in was up for debate. The kernel of truth within that old lie that drug addiction fuels creativity is that it certainly fuels self-importance, and suckers for the Big Statement often consider those two qualities interchangeable. Fortunately, after a half-decade making sense of his life in a non-artistic fashion (i.e., rehab), Reznor emerged with a trilogy of decently successful singles that acknowledged that sharp electro-craftsman’s true legacy as the inventor of bubblegum-industrial.

“The Hand That Feeds” was the crowd-pleaser, with the oral implications of its call for an uprising — “Will you stay down on your knees?” — against some unnamed Entity (more likely the music industry than the Bush Administration) almost certainly intended. Made for a cool “Ghostbusters” mash-up too. And “Every Day Is Exactly the Same” popped Trent into a suitably Sisyphean groove. But if that first single was juvenile in its rebelliousness, and the latter too mature in its resignation, “Only” was the Goldielocks mean, a middle-aged malcontent waxing darkly humorous about his personality crises, secure in the knowledge that he’ll be in the black so long as strip clubs pay ASCAP their performance licensing fees.

On “Only,” Reznor chugs along a nihilist treadmill of an Autobahn, his bored sing-talk threatening at times to glide into an LCD Soundsystem rant. (“But I was there, when Marilyn Manson decided to cover Eurythmics. I said, ‘Trust me, this is much spookier than “Here Comes the Rain Again.”‘”) “There is no you/ There is only me,” he shouts on the chorus, later adding “There is no fucking you,” in case you missed his point and retain any delusions of existence. Not only aren’t the lyrics dumb, but “I just made you up to hurt myself” may hold some therapeutic value for its singer.

Or, as the Wikipedia page for the song helpfully, if redundantly, cross-references, “See also: solipsism.”

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