Master of Arts (MA)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Number of Pages
With the humanities becoming progressively more open to interdisciplinary studies, there exists a space for music to be part of the discourse surrounding literature. One of the most important developments for music was the rise of the concept album, a medium where the individual tracks are defined by a larger theme or a unifying narrative. The concept album first emerged in the 1960s and became a method for musicians to experiment with expanded storylines and lyrical motifs that overthrew classical models of music albums. One of the most
influential concept albums, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, which came out in 1994, is noteworthy due to its nuanced exploration of subject matter like mental illness, addiction, and skepticism toward authority. This is all filtered through an unnamed protagonist who is based off the personal life of Trent Reznor, the creator and frontman of Nine Inch Nails. The protagonist is forced to confront the harsh nature of his existence, which leads him down a path of nihilistic despair, echoing a literary conversion narrative, with the album making explicit references to both existentialist and postmodern philosophy.
This interdisciplinary thesis aims to explore the gap between the study of music and literature by positioning the concept album as a postmodern literary artifact, using The Downward Spiral as the basis for a critical examination. By using a combination of texts from postmodern authors Chuck Palahniuk and David Foster Wallace as well as lyrical analysis of
select tracks from the album, this thesis will demonstrate that the concept album belongs to the postmodern literary genre because of its contradiction of musical conventions and through Reznor’s lyrics and recording methods, the concept album also engages in establishing aesthetic discontinuity and transgression, which shares a direct lineage within the postmodern literary tradition.
Concept Album; Music; Nine Inch Nails; Postmodern; Postmodern literature
Arts and Humanities | Music
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Stith, Kelly E., "The Concept Album as Postmodern Literature: A Critical Examination of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral" (2021). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 4318.
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