Professor Mark Snyder
December 4, 2016
Understanding the “Terrible Lie”
Nine Inch Nails starting in 1989 the group consisting of Trent Reznor and no one else (officially). Terrible Lie was the second song on the NIN’s first album. Percussion and synthesizer heavy tracks, were the main focus on this first album. Terrible Lie the second most popular song on “Pretty Hate Machine” seemed to resonate with listeners in the late 80’s and early 90’s. With lyrics that scream at god for betrayal of trust, for having put so much time and energy into following in faith just for him to have seemingly realized that it was all a “Terrible Lie”. Terrible Lie, is a song that resonates with listeners for lyrical, emotional, and musical content, which shows the song is still timeless.
The lyrical content of “Terrible Lie” can dig into anyone. Whether people take the lyrics as a metaphor or can relate with them directly. The reoccurring theme with nin’s lyrics, is that they just like onions have layers, and can be interpreted to fit many different meanings. Even though the lyrics specifically call out god ergo “Hey God” (Reznor 1989) which is repeated over and over each time followed by lyrics of betrayal. This can also be interpreted as corporate fat cats or entities that see themselves as higher than other people (later on in nin’s music Reznor refers to them as “pigs” see Piggy, or March of the Pigs 1994). The lyrics and the harshness of the instrumentation, really adds to the feeling of betrayal and straight up rage felt by Reznor, putting emphasis to verses that really hit the point home, or the almost disturbing point where the words “Don’t tear it away from me, I need someone to hold on to” (Reznor, 1989) start off as a whisper and repeat to be screamed as if Reznor himself is being abused or violated, as something he once held onto was proven to be nothing but a lie Reznor is left unable to believe in anything later on stating “I lost my ignorance, security, and pride” (Reznor, 1989) and even past that wishing he could have something that he had to believe in, “I need someone to hold on to” (Reznor 1989). With lyrics that bring up such a relatable topic of betrayal, and the feeling of being lied to, it is very easy for people to really cling on to these lyrics and give them their own personalized meaning.
The emotionality of the song sticks with the listener making the song great for replayability. Hearing the raw emotion of this song, it’s easy for a listener to cling to it because it makes them feel connected to the music. Especially in live performance which is why during Lollapalooza and other live concerts where nin has not been the main act the audience can still get into the song until everyone is screaming out the 2 worded chorus. In live performances especially early on, Reznor’s performance of the song is downright gnarly, when the first chorus hits and he just screams, letting out only a portion of all the rage that emanates from his body as the song goes on. Even when Reznor isn’t particularly performing or into the song in the beginning, (Check out nin’s performance of the song at Big Day Out 2000), Reznor starts off almost relaxed or chill, but as the song progresses you can see the anger and color fill his face and his voice. Making this song an emotional rollercoaster from anger to violation and fear too full on hatred, and raw emotion of that sort really resonates with listeners.
Terrible Lie’s musical content is a very important part to make the song enjoyable to listen to. The songs key is hard to find but, the common answer to what key it is in as found in “Ultimateguitartabs.com”. Obviously it would make sense that with such an angry and sad tone it would make sense that the song is in a minor key otherwise it might throw listeners off, but the song is focused heavily on the lyrics so it wouldn’t make sense to throw off the listeners with a happier tone. Next the instrumentation and layering of the songs, because there is no information on how many layers there are, the only way to find out is to listen to the song. From what can be heard in the song, there are at least 14 layers, with at least 8 synth patches. The layers in the music can be very important in adding to the vibe even though at a first listen the song does not sound as complex as it is, just as the lyrics upon first listen may not seem as angry and upset as they are. The songs tempo is set to a ballad speed of 90 bpm, giving the song a very chant like feel that way listeners can take in the lyrics clearly without having other musical elements to distract from the main focus of the lyrics. All of these elements are extremely important to making this song so powerful and timeless.
The elements that put together Terrible Lie make it a very powerful song that continues to be timeless for fans. With musicality, emotion, and lyrical content Terrible Lie still holds its own as an important song in Nine Inch Nail’s library. In a library full of amazing music Terrible Lie holds its own compared to many other popular songs in its time period. For these reasons Terrible Lie is a great staple of Nine Inch Nails catalog.