The year I was born, Trent Reznor, under his Nine Inch Nails alias, released Pretty Hate Machine, an album which through the iconographic concept of the mix tape circuit launched his career. Fueled by a nihilistic sense of self-realization, and far too much booze, Reznor produced tracks which resonated with audiences for their highly inter personal lyrics and the "industrial" sound new to main stream listeners. Taking expansive amounts of time between records to explore and perfect his craft, the front of Nine Inch Nails became one of the most respected acts in alternative music history, and put Reznor to a level of stardom seldom achieved by anyone. It's this guise, reliant on the fact that his first three albums mean so much not just to fans, but to modern music as a whole, that disables many from being able to objectively look at anything released by Nine Inch Nails; case and point being the sales and critical acceptance of 2005's With Teeth.
Coming just two years after the aforementioned With Teethis Year Zero. Taking a new writing approach thematically, Reznor deals with the American political situation on what is his most straightforward disc to date. Regurgitating a tired message in a tired fashion, Year Zero presents its listener with sixteen tracks of repetitive drums beats, unarticulated political droning, and a number of bells and whistles as to make the claim for experimentation. Each song brings a reminder of something from Reznor's past while never achieving the level of relation found in his previous work. They're sad copies of his better days, played for anyone nostalgic enough to buy into them.
Perhaps this is the difference between 2007 and 1994, at that point Year Zero could make the claim for innovation, or at least presented a shock to its listener, but at this presently we've heard it all done before. Coughed up as something new, Reznor fails to say anything you couldn't find someplace else, and created an utterly forgettable disc, a claim I could never make for any of its predecessors. And I am almost positive the beat utilized in "God Given" is the same as in Justin Timerlake's "Sexy Back."
Let me bring you up to speed on the world of Nine Inch Nails. 2005 saw the release of With Teeth, an album which boasted three number-one singles, a Grammy award nomination, and respectable position on many 'top albums of the year' lists. Like the widely acclaimed The Downward Spiral before it, With Teeth showcased distinct pop-sensibilities in frontman Trent Reznor and proved popular with long-time enthusiasts and newcomers alike - and yet, at the same time, I couldn't help but feel a little let down. With the exception of live albums and the usual smattering of remixes, With Teeth was the bands first output since 1999. When compared with its predecessor, the notoriously obtuse double-disc epic The Fragile, it felt as if Reznor was holding something back. Now, a mere two years later, and the missing piece of the puzzle falls into place.
Year Zero is the first of a two-part concept series centered around a dystopian world of the future, a mere fifteen years from now. In-keeping with the concept, the album's release was preceded by what has to be the best marketing ploy since The Blair Witch Project. Not content with merely the public hearing his record, Reznor wants the world to experience "Year Zero." Since February fans have been going nuts over what has grown into a vast and at times disturbing alternate reality game, including scores of websites, "Lost"-esque number puzzles, messages encoded into sound files and phone calls from the Orwellian "U.S. Bureau of Morality" - whose hot-line number is pasted onto the album's back-cover, allowing guilty little thought-criminals to turn themselves in. In another brilliant move, Reznor also leaked a number of the albums strongest tracks himself, giving a big 'fuck you' to the RIAA, by planting USB drives containing MP3s in gig venue toilets. While participation in Reznor's elaborate game certainly isn't a prerequisite to enjoying Year Zero, it is a fascinating distraction for anyone with time enough to go poking their head down the rabbit hole.
Wouldn't it be a little embarrassing if, after all of these hours spent on creating the world of Year Zero, the music itself didn't stand up to scrutiny? Luckily for us, it does. Just over an hour in length, there isn't a single wasted second to be found. Year Zero is nothing like anything we have previously heard from Nine Inch Nails, and that definitely isn't a bad thing. "God Given" is as funky as any Timbaland hit you care to mention, while "The Great Destroyer" breaks down mid-song into a Aphex Twin style glitch fit - Reznor, here, mixing and matching all the best parts of various genres to create something wholly unique, a sound like no other. Gone are the dense walls of sound, replaced instead by the ethic that less is more.
While Reznor has gained a reputation as an infamous navel-gazer when it comes to lyrics, Year Zero sees his anger turning outwards - and with surprisingly cringe-free results. The world's favorite whipping boy, George W. Bush, gets the Reznor treatment on "Capital G" whilst "The Good Soldier" gives us a glimpse of life from one of his disillusioned followers. As the album progresses, we hear from many more of the cast of characters Reznor has created for his future-world, including the militant resistance on shout-along anthems like "Survivalism" and "My Violent Heart." At the opposite end of the scale, the hauntingly beautiful "In This Twilight" - part the subdued trio of tracks that close Year Zero - is the albums finest moment and a perfect example why Reznor should sing more often.
Whether experienced a single track at a time or in its entirety, Year Zero never tires. I really can't say enough in favor of what Reznor has created here. Whatever your past opinion on Nine Inch Nails is, put it aside and listen to Year Zero. You won't be disappointed.
7.7 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
My first ever disclaimer: I like Nine Inch Nails. I thought the little Art is Resistance campaign made for Year Zero (the best album of 2007!) was the most entertaining ...
Posted Sept. 2, 2013, 10:26 a.m.
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Posted May 28, 2013, 4:40 p.m.
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