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Music

Watch a young Trent Reznor cover Billy Idol’s ‘Eyes Without a Face’

@TomTaylorFO

Few artists have retained an air of almost mysterious daring quite like Trent Reznor. It was this quality that first endeared him to the king of daring artistry, David Bowie, to collaborate with the Nine Inch Nails star when they brought about a new brand of industrialism in the 1990s. The approach has always been one that Reznor has had at the forefront of his thinking, as he once opined: “To me, rock music was never meant to be safe.”

He then added: “I think there needs to be an element of intrigue, mystery, subversiveness. Your parents should hate it.” With that in mind, while Reznor and Billy Idol might seem very different in some regards, there is no doubting that when Idol first emerged with Generation X in 1976, that he was far from the top of parent’s Christmas shopping lists. 

Leather-clad and snarling, Idol was undeniably a genuine punk before his style took a more commercial twist. However, at one point in the middle of his journey from genuine punk to new wave near-novelty came the masterful ‘Eyes Without a Face’, for my money his finest song at a glistening example of the era at its best. Clearly, Reznor agrees and it even has more in common with the film score composer than meets the eye. 

‘Eyes Without a Face’ was written as an ode to the French film Les Yeux Sans Visage. For those who ne peut parler français the title of the film translates to English, as you may well have already guessed: ‘Eyes Without a Face’. unlike a lot of French arthouse movies, the title is pretty much on the nose (or lack thereof). It is a horror story in which a surgeon causes a car crash that leaves his daughter’s face horribly disfigured. The guilt-ridden father then deliriously sets about recovering his daughter’s superficial beauty in a perverse frenzy of face-peeling abductions in the hopes he can needle his way towards redemption.

Within the song Idol’s ex-girlfriend, Perri Lister sings the original title as the build-up to the chorus as a nod to the cinematic inspiration, in a track that resides as a timeless new wave classic. The film was released in 1960 by the French director Georges Franju and it has a French new wave style of its own despite the gory premise making Idol’s transposition a fitting one. 

And speaking of fitting transpositions, despite what you might expect, Reznor’s cover of the track is also a faithful one. The mid-1980s performance comes from his pre-Nine Inch Nails, Ohio-based cover band days. The rendition might not hint at the sound that he would soon espouse, but it certainly offers a glimpse at his performative style and eclectic taste. You can check it out below.