As a reflection of my mental space (at work anyway) between February and May, I listened to Nine Inch Nails for hours each day. It's mostly pretty dark, oppressive stuff and seemed to suit the mood. The reason I seem to have a hard time getting into whole albums is because they usually have some duds, and this one is no exception, but the genius cancels out the garbage. Listen to the whole thing here...
I remember the first time I heard NIN. Chris Eidse's tape in the winter of 1991-92, during an era I've come to realize as the defining transition time in my life. I had no money, had just been dumped, living in different places, was struggling in university...so Reznor was creating just the right sounds of rage and alienation. That was also a time when I forged my core friendships for the next decade, with music as the glue that stuck us together, so I've always had a soft spot for NIN. But yeah, the new album.
Year Zero is incredibly polarized, an phenomenon easily represented by a single song -- the first half of The Great Destroyer might be like the second-best straight-up rock he's ever done, with wicked guitar riffs and great melodies...but then at 1:41, the cheesiest overdubbed Queen-like chorus nearly ruins the entire thing, followed by a minute and a half of dissonance that sounds like your computer devouring itself with the speakers cranked. The rest of the album has that same split personality.
Interestingly, the songs I've seen referenced positively in other reviews are the ones I thought were weakest: Capital G, the irritating first single Survivalism, God Given, Meet Your Master, and Vessel. I guess they go with the concept album theme, and maybe I just haven't come around yet, but I'm having a hard time listening to them at all. The mostly instrumental songs are all fine, but aren't remarkable. Jury's still out on a couple of them: the album-closing ballad Zero-Sum and The Good Soldier, which has an odd lounge vibe that doesn't really seem to fit.
But the good news here is very, very good. The album's lone pop song is called In This Twilight, and it alone justifies purchasing the album. I guess I'm just a pansy NIN fan for liking the mellower, mid-tempo songs best, but this tune is seriously perfect. Next comes a trio of gems: The Warning, The Beginning of the End and My Violent Heart, all dripping with attitude, intense sound and pure musical craftsmanship. Me, I'm Not could be probably be included in that group as well. These are not easy listening by any means, but after repeated listens, they're becoming the soundtrack to my conciousness.
An offer: any friends who aren't fans but are curious enough to try it, e-mail me your mailing address and I'll send you my personal best-of mix. 15 great NIN songs burned on a CD.