No, not Trent Reznor singing the moany overwrought Nine Inch Nails version; I mean Johnny Cash’s take on American IV: The Man Comes Around, his last studio album. It’s grainy and sad and generally awesome. To his credit, Trent Reznor said “that song isn’t mine anymore.”
That whole American IV collection is pretty great. It’s got an triumphant Bridge Over Troubled Water, sharing the vocals with Fiona Apple, a straight-ahead only-slightly-hilarious run through Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, a duet with Nick Cave on I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, and a deeply beautiful performance of Danny Boy.
But Hurt is something special. Unlike Reznor, Cash doesn’t fool with the rhythm or get fancy with the phrasing, he just keeps striding and striding along this song’s very dark and narrow path; the arrangement (by Rick Rubin? It doesn’t say) is fantastic, with the brooding rhythm on an endless slow crescendo behind the voice then vanishing into silence behind Johnny’s voice.
And it’s Johnny Cash’s singing that you’re here for. His voice is like an old tree; rough, grainy, beautiful, inflexible; he doesn’t leave an atom of the song’s emotion untouched.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes. Live video? Johnny was barely alive, at the time. But the official video is quite a piece of work. Carefully conceived, it doesn’t pretend to be live, it’s nostalgia-drenched and super intense; it helps if you know some of the Johnny Cash mythology.