My first post won’t start with 1, because I’m going to talk about Zero, Year Zero that is. The new Nine Inch Nails album.
It’s almost hard to talk about a Nine Inch Nails album. With a release by Trent Reznor comes much hype, and hope for the greatness that was released with Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. What? you say. What about the other albums, the EPs, etc.? Well, The Fragile was sprawling and flawed. It lacked cohesion, and like Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, would have benefited from a single disc release as The Fragile Version 2.0. Broken/Fixed were both awesome in their sheer violence and rage against the corporate music world, but never had the stamp of masterpiece which a debut like Pretty Hate Machine or an epic monster of album like The Downward Spiral had. And With Teeth…more on that later.
So, Year Zero. Let me say first that it lives up to some of the hype.
I won’t go into the hype surrounding the ARG (alternate reality game), but in regards to the hype that any NIN release causes, Year Zero The album is at times brutal, at times beautiful, and always catchy due to Reznor’s highly toned ear for pop composition despite the darker, and somewhat anti-pop, musical landscape he works within. Ultimately, Year Zero embraces the various sonic textures that Reznor has developed in his twenty-odd year career. At times it evokes the sound of Pretty Hate Machine as played on modern computers, keyboards, and mixing devices. In other moments, such as on lead single Survivalism (the bastard love-child of the raging March of the Pigs and the fuzzed out electro-industrial rock of We’re in this Together Now), various entries in the NIN backcatalog become something new. Plus, it’s an interesting extroverted angsty critique of our society (see Track 7, Capital G for its analysis of our country post-Gw.) which is a welcome change from twenty years of introverted angsty critique of self. Whether the album works as a concept album chronicling a vision of a 1984/Brave New World America is neither here nor there for the musical vision it represents.
From the opening thundererous roar of Hyperpower! to the nihilistic soft distortion of closer Zero-Sum, the album beckons you to listen straight through. That in itself is saying alot especially in our hyperactive, attention deficient, post-Ipod shuffle, need it now society, but also in terms of NIN’s “recent” output. The Fragile’s two discs left you drained (and at times annoyed) before the end of disc one. With Teeth…I hadn’t liked With Teeth much at all, but Year Zero made me go back and take another chance on it. And I’m glad I did. Sonically, the albums have much in common (though Reznor screams quite a bit less on Year Zero). In fact, listening to With Teeth after Year Zero makes With Teeth sound like the demos for Year Zero (which is somewhat the case since NIN wrote/recorded Year Zero while touring for With Teeth). Many of the songs sound reminiscient of songs from With Teeth, only reimagined rather than remixed. Reznor pulls out all the sonic belligerence he can muster, yet it never is grating, never painfully harsh (which he has purposefully been in the past). Unlike With Teeth, which I felt sounded much like a band wanting to be Nine Inch Nails (and had that been the case I would have congratulated them for making a fine album–just not a Nine Inch Nails album), Year Zero is worthy of NIN’s earlier greatness.
Even at its most clamorous, its most disjointed, its most ear-splitting, the cacophony is harmonic, catchy, well-crafted, and mind-blowingly executed. It should be. Year Zero is the culmination of the sounds that Reznor has been toying with for a while, since the brilliant The Perfect Drug somewhat changed the sound of Nine Inch Nails. On another very cool note, Year Zero sounds like Nine Inch Nails as a band, not solely Trent Reznor. While he may BE Nine Inch Nails in spirit, conceptualization, and virtually everything else, Year Zero, unlike some of the other albums (With Teeth sounded like it all came solely from his laptop), sounds like a full band with each member bringing something to the table. This is especially apparent in the vocals, and even more so in the guitar work that, at times, sounds radically different and exciting than anything NIN has done before.
Year Zero, above all else, deserves to be listened to at loud volumes. The barrage of sounds composed into compelling song structures tugs at your senses. I dare you to try to not be blown away during the brilliance of The Great Destroyer. If there are any faults, it is that many of the songs are over just as you are finally grasping the last amazing sound that hits your ears.