Nine Inch Nails destroyed the rock world while building a mystery.
Good stuff. This really encapsulates what the experience was like discovering Nine Inch Nails in the early 90s before Closer made them a cool band. Nine Inch Nails were terrifying in all of the best ways. I loved everything about this band. Still do.
As for PHM, it's funny. My first NIN purchase not PHM, but the Head Like a Hole maxi-single (remember when those were a thing?).
It had several version of Head Like A Hole, several versions of Terrible Lie, several versions of Down In It. I listened to it on repeat SO many times. I then bought Pretty Hate Machine, and like you, I didn't love it. It was so synth-y and poppy. Like you said, it was almost vibrant and bright. It was catchy. It had a sheen to it. I can't remember if I could hear the power of the songs that were buried under that gloss, but it didn't click with me. And I really think it's one of those things where you need to hear those songs live before you get it. Now I love PHM and can listen to it and hear the power of those songs underneath all the window dressing.
As for Downward Spiral....it's complicated. Of the pre-Ghosts albums, it's the one I've listened to the least I'm sure. Yes, this includes With Teeth and Year Zero. I was all in on the Broken EP, and I think I wanted more of that. I know I didn't immediately fall in love with Downward Spiral. I had the same reaction to Closer that you did. And yes, 14 year old me was really annoyed with all the popular kids in school suddenly singing the lyrics of one of my favorite bands in the halls of the school. The same band these kids used to make fun of. It annoyed me.
Today, I have grown to appreciate this album a LOT. I love how you can now hear all the pre-cursors to The Fragile (and gosh, if I was doing a column like this, that would be the album I would write about. I could do 10,000 words on The Fragile no problem), which is one of the most important albums in my life. I mean, songs like The Becoming and A Warm Place could fit in on The Fragile easily. It just took me a while to get to that point with the Downward Spiral. That's just how it works with music sometimes.
Oh, and finally, my favorite March of the Pigs thing.....the time signature. It's essentially a song in 7/8 with 4/4 sections mixed in. But if you want to get technical about it, it's in 29/8 time, which is just hilarious to think about. Again, it's an ultra-nerdy thing and it's even questionably true. Most people would just call it a 7/8 song. But I've always appreciated that aspect about that song. It's just so perfectly weird.