Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Nine Inch Nails, originally formed in Cleveland, Ohio, gets a chance to return to their start with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. The third time was the charm; they were nominated in 2014 and 2015 as well.
The band is still active despite many hiatuses throughout their career. For example, did you know that Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” samples a Nine Inch Nails song from one of their instrumental Ghosts albums (the latest, Ghosts V, released this year)? Longstanding band members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have even been involved in writing movie scores for films and television shows such as The Social Network, Gone Girl, and Watchmen.
But back in 1994, their second album The Downward Spiral, a concept album tracing a man’s deteriorating life, brought the band into the mainstream and gave them commercial success. Although one of the singles off this album, “Closer,” is arguably their most popular hit, another of the album’s tracks, “Hurt,” has stood the test of time. It’s been covered most notably by Johnny Cash, but it’s also featured in movies, television shows, and even in sports montages and tributes.
To celebrate Nine Inch Nails’s induction, we revisit “Hurt” with five good covers and one good twist–all of them are by female artists.
Leona Lewis – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover)
Leona Lewis’s experience with singing “keep bleeding” makes her a natural choice to cover this song. She reaches low to handle the deep verses and then moves to her usual range in the choruses. Her version creates the dissonant background music with piano rather than guitar, and this version is sans industrial background white noise. The original uses percussion to build in the choruses, but we get a little less intensity in the buildup here. Lewis and the background instrumentation increases volume and feeling in the second verse and reaches even greater heights in both during the second iteration of the chorus. Where the original ends with some dramatic sounds that fade out into more white noise, this version leaves us where it found us, with the simple piano.
Claire Denamur – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover)
French artist Claire Denamur creates a simple cover, accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar. Her deep and smoky vocals fit the song’s ambiance. However, you won’t hear any dramatic changes in volume or instrumental intensity in this version. Denamur’s approach yields a little more introspection rather than leaning in to bleak depression. The conclusion of the chorus is more matter of fact: take me as I am.
Unwoman – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover)
Unwoman is a cellist and singer who people have a hard time putting in a box. Words like “goth” and “synth pop” crop up, but you’ll just have to hear for yourself and try to pick a label. If you were missing the song’s drama in the previous cover, this one definitely brings it back. The mix of cello and sonorous and deep percussion merge together to create a full and ominous background sound to the strong and clear vocals. A xylophone occasionally chimes in and provides a more whimsical alternative to the industrial sounds in the original. It somehow doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the song. The end comes all of a sudden with a slightly dissonant mix of new sounds, reminiscent of the original’s unique ending.
Youn Sun Nah – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover)
Back to acoustic takes on the song. Youn Sun Nah is a Korean musician known for her jazz style. Her cover is distinguished by its more precise and full sounding plucking. We get an appropriately mournful overall mood. Small yet impactful choices like drawing out the word “down” and decreasing the pitch as it is enunciated make this cover stand out.
Sandi Thom – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover)
We’ll close with Scottish singer, Sandi Thom. Again we get a simple acoustic guitar as the background instrumentation, but this cover really stands out for its vocals. Thom’s voice is the most resonant, contrasting the deep, whispered at times, original, and we really get to feel the emotion throughout. This cover’s ending follows the outro with the chorus one last time, which actually makes the song a little less hopeful. We’re no longer leaving on a promise to “find a way” but rather with a reminder of a let down and ultimate hurt.