Nine Inch Nails vs. the Smashing Pumpkins

an article about Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan
their influences to modern music and certain similarities


After hearing to both their music for years now and knowing the basics of those band histories I realized brief similarities between the music of theirs, how it evolved over the years and also similarities between the biographies of Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan. I found it worth of being analyzed in some sort of essay (or whatever this text will become of after finishing it). So, here it goes:


Right now I am quite a fan of both bands, most commonly of Nine Inch Nails. I'd say I ADORE the music Mr. Reznor spawns. I always liked to keep an eye on how his music developed over the years, interlinked with the evolution in rock music over the past 20 years. This was a quite logical developing and I always agreed to what happened as it to be the 'right way'. Trent was always in touch with what was the current state of evolution not once, like most cool bands, but keeping this state since 20 years now. That's amazing!
One year ago I finally downloaded stuff from the Smashing Pumpkins (I should have done this some years ago... was nothing more than awkward bad luck that I did not) and they quickly became one of my favorite bands. And they're still.
And soon I discovered that their music developing are quite similar to NIN. Let me explain what I mean by comparing both bands history.


Both bands have been founded in 1988. Of course the influences to the music of both bands at their beginning have been quite identically. I'm thinking of the 80s rock-sub-scenes, such as for example the 'gothic-rock' (stupid term), synth pop, bands like The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie, Skinny Puppy... Music, that finally spawned genres as industrial, 'shoe-gazing', grunge... and so on. You know that kind of music.
And both Reznor and Corgan used this basics for creating a similar style of new rock genre, but still being so individual that we can't hardly find ONE genre-term for neither NIN nor SP. I like the term 'grunge' for both. But okay, let's be fair: NIN was more the electronic-orientated band, while SP was more the metal-band right from the beginning, what NIN first touched with later works.
NINs 'Pretty Hate Machine' sounded like late 80s synth pop. And that's what is was back then. SPs 'Gish' was harder rock. But NINs second album-like release 'Broken' was similar to what Gish sounded like, but with less punk in it. So, not disregarding that the SPs did not had this synth pop groundings it's astonishing how similar their style in the 1992s was!
Later then, to the end of the 90s, Corgan will have finally stated that the future in rock will be in a collaboration with the electronic genre(s) and automatically keep track on what NIN started with.
But NINs harder work like that of Broken (what was missing in PHM) will have been influenced the whole style of NINs music until the end of the 90s.


What both bands also have in common are the fact that the term 'band' does not really settle what they are, as both Reznor as well as Corgan aren't just the heart of the band, but more they actually ARE the band: They are one man show with members primary for live gigs and such stuff.
While Trent has never made a secret out of his person being 'the only constant member' and titling the other member being 'the live band', Corgan did never actually say this about his band. But it's a fact that he is a control freaks and frequently used to re-do the work the other members did for their recordings when he wasn't that satisfied with the result. So the SPs have always been HIS thing. During the years the other members shifted and altered often.
I thing this is a quite amazing fact to know that most of the stuff that have been to do with the band are actually out of the minds of Trent or Billy! They're great personalities and todays music scene wouldn't be the same without those two. (At this point I want to thank you both for all you have done yet!)

And did you know, that both use to play ALL instruments within their band, with exception of the drums. Both play guitar, bass, keyboard, do the vocals, do mixing on computer and such stuff, but none of them is able to play the drums.


The next thing I'd like to talk about is the co-work they did with other bands or personalities.
For example both used to be an opening act for Guns'n'Roses. Robin Finck of Guns'n'Roses was even live guitarist for NIN. Both Trent and Billy used to work for Marilyn Manson albums. And none other than super-brain Alan Moulder produced 'The Downward Spiral' AND 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness'.

And those two albums may be two of the best albums ever created. TDS is stated to be NINs best work ever (I myself prefer The Fragile, but they share quite the same essentials), as well as Mellon Collie ought to be the SPs best work. Fact is as of 2008 those seem to be the apex of their career in the following meaning: Both bands needed around 7 years to evolve their sound up to that point. And everything they did up to that time leaded to those two albums.
NIN came up with a subtle synth rock, added some experimental stuff with the time, got a bit harder and more melancholic. SP started more metal-like and added more 'control', became more 'calm' and ALSO more melancholic. Then there came TDS and MC, each following a period of for each of them more constant sound, ending in The Fragile (NIN) and Adore and Machina (SP). Those 'blocks' sound more alike than any other album equals to another album of the same band.
Around the time between TDS/MC and their follow-ups both bands suffered on great casualties: Trents grandma died the woman who did raise him like her own son and was like a mother to poor Trent. And Corgans Mom died. Also did SPs live keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin on an overdose. Those tragedies would have had a great influence on both the bands music. (Not to mention the SP song 'For Martha', which was the name of Corgans mother, and the NIN song 'I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally', which was dedicated to Trents grandmother.)
The Fragile became the saddest album of NINs repertoire. Adore was the final step in SP works of finally going more electronic. This began with just replacing real drums with a drum machine, but expanded to the use of more computer-orientated tools later then. Adore may have been a great change in the music of the Smashing Pumpkins, but the core of their sound was quite the same as it was in Mellon Collie. It was just more electronic-orientated than expected. The same with The Fragile. It was the same result as TDS, but just a bit more evolved.
As if both bands found their style... but that's far off the truth.

Because both bands had some sort of 'hiatus' from the year 2000, for 5 and 7 years.
The Smashing Pumpkins did actually split up. Nine Inch Nails' future was more insecure because Reznor did need some time for his rehabilitation from drug and alcohol abuse.
Both comebacks marked a great change in their style again, of just getting much more electronic than before. NIN did this step so far that today they're hardly a ROCK band anymore...


Another great similarity is about Reznor and Corgans view about the position of labels to their bands, connection to fans, interactivity, marketing and such stuff.
Today we praise bands like NIN or Radiohead for being trendsetting in sharing their music via Internet, boycotting their own labels and so on. But actually the first (notable) band that ever did such steps where the Pumpkins back in 2000. They wanted to give fans, who actually buy 'Machina I' the possibility of downloading 'Machina II' for free, but Virgin rejected and the band decided to release the album as a free download for EVERYONE.
I mean, this was not in 2005, 2004 or so it was back in 2000! Remember the time when MP3s with more then 128kbit/sec were exaggerated and we went online with 56k-modems.

The same thing with interactive fan-service games (for promoting and so on): Also in 2000 Corgan arranged the animated internet-mini-series 'Glass and the Machines of God'. Web pages have been created and the fans where involved in the process of creating stuff and so on. Doesn't this remind everyone of the Year Zero ARG and/or similar stuff from todays web scene?
Back then nobody really gave a damn about this project. I would say it was just ahead of the times and the fans couldn't deal with this sort of interactivity. Today this would be of much greater success definitely!


Well, this have been the facts of major interest I wanted to share with you, the reader.
Some smaller similarities, like Corgan and Reznor working on similar stuff, like helping friends out on their albums or producing soundtracks for films and games (oh yeah, the Quake soundtrack was great!) I don't mind of mentioning them at all, because they're minor. But when you have read this far I think you know was I was thinking about before writing this down.

Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins have surprisingly much in common, reckoning their sound, their history and their influences on modern (rock) music. They give us music fans a reason to love to be engaged with music and pushed the musical evolution just in the right direction, into the future and giving us a gaze to what comes thereafter.

Seth, 08|06|25