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Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero

Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero

Review by Richard Goodwin

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JUST two years after the disappointing With Teeth Trent Reznor returns with a concept album about a collapsing near future society.

After a revolutionary guerrilla marketing campaign including secret codes to websites and sneak peaks of tracks left on memory sticks in public toilets, the pre-release expectation of Reznor’s concept album reached fever pitch amongst his legions of fans some time ago.

But all manner of marketing techniques and gimmicks can’t hide the fact this is a music album we’re talking about, so after all the hype is there any substance to back it all up?

The first thing noticeable about this record is Reznor’s re-acquired sense of pop. Not since Pretty Hate Machine, all the way back in 1989, has Reznor injected so many pop hooks on an album and, for the first time in many years, he seems less intent on pummelling our ears and more concerned with entertaining us.

In fact, only around a quarter of the tracks here have any guitars and the record is largely electronic. There’s a patchwork of influences from Mezzanine-era Massive Attack to Public Enemy and the Aphex Twin.

Most tracks rumble along on squelching electronic bleeps, huge funky beats and dub baselines. The production and sound design are immaculate as you would expect from a perfectionist like Reznor but here he gives the tracks space to breath instead of filling them with a wall of sound density. This gives the album a more welcoming feel than previous NIN albums, resulting in a dark but seductive listen.

Stand-out tracks include The Good Shepherd and God Given which are both based on electro-funk grooves aligned to great hooks and melodies. Both tracks are pure pop and would arguably have been much better singles than the slightly underwhelming Survivalism.

God Given has an extended dance-y outro and a chorus that brings to mind Eminem.

Me, I’m Not and The Greater Good are mellower tracks and are closer to latter period Massive Attack. Both tracks are dark and brooding and roll along on smooth grooves aligned with the kind of melodies that creep into your subconscious after repeat listens.

There are a couple of more standard NIN tracks like The Beginning of the End and Meet Your Master but these still contain more melody than Reznor has allowed in previous albums and are still excellent tracks.

In This Twilight is also another great track, an electro-pop song that’s possibly the most pretty and commercial track Reznor has ever produced.

The best is saved for last, though, and Zero-Sum is right up there with Reznor’s very best work. The track contains beautiful piano lines and a gorgeous chorus aided by sighs from what sounds like an electronic choir. It’s a beautiful track and ends the album on an oddly cathartic note.

There is the odd miss-step, however. Capital G is another stab at electro-pop but is far less satisfying than In This Twilight. It begins with what sounds like the beat of When The Going Gets Tough (rather bizarrely!) and just doesn’t seem to quite fit with the rest of the album.

In fact, the middle section of the albums sags a little and slackens the pace somewhat.

The other main flaw of the album is the lack of variety in the production. Reznor relies on a smaller pool of sounds here than on previous NIN albums and the extremely heavy bass beats in particular become a little wearing towards the end.

Overall, the uniformity of the production leads to some of the tracks sounding a little too similar, especially upon first listen.

The concept element of the album is also open to debate given that it frankly makes no sense. Indeed, it’s best not to attempt to read too much into the meaning of it. Reznor is obviously trying to say something about the current state of our society through the metaphor of this near future society but he’s not really saying anything new at all.

The positive side of this, however, is that we are spared the A-level angst of previous NIN records.

That said, Reznor was very brave to attempt the project as it’s very easy to laugh at concept records and he could easily have ended up with egg all over his face.

He gets away with it through something of a musical re-invention to produce his most accessible record in over a decade. At 42, Reznor is still a class act and still relevant.

Year Zero is the best NIN record since The Downward Spiral and it should keep his following happy. Let’s hope he continues in this more accessible direction for the rumoured Year Zero: Part 2.

Download picks: The Good Shepherd, God Given, In This Twilight, Zero-Sum, Me, I’m Not, The Greater Good

Track listing:

  1. Hyperpower
  2. Beginning Of The End
  3. Survivalism
  4. Good Soldier
  5. Vessel
  6. Me I’m Not
  7. Capital G
  8. My Violent Heart
  9. Warning
  10. God Given
  11. Meet Your Master
  12. Greater Good
  13. Great Destroyer
  14. Another Version Of The Truth
  15. In This Twilight
  16. Zero Sum

  1. ok there is a menaing to the words in this cd and people that even try and look into what he is really trying to say wouldt know! the cd is basicaly him trying to lead people out of there own beleifs and he's trying to brain wash people! and its working~ hahah good album! best of 07

    Matthew Paul    May 22    #