on 23 September 2007
When a friend loaned me his copy of Year Zero, it was the first time I had sat down and properly listened to anything by Nine Inch Nails. (Since then I've really got into them.) At first I wasn't really fussed: it seemed like angry lyrics set to a load of electronic chaos. But after a few listens, the music started to resolve itself into something really brilliant.
First things first: Year Zero is a concept album set in 2022 (or 'Year Zero' under the new calendar adopted in the USA), in a world where the governments put sedatives in the water to keep the masses blinkered, dirty bombs go off in Los Angeles, climate change wreaks havoc and war is a constant reality. Towards the end of the album, a mysterious entity called The Presence begins to make itself apparent.
The story of Year Zero is told from the perspectives of people in very different positions: the compliant citizen, the disillusioned soldier, members of the government, rebels, even The Presence.
It's hard not to pick out highlights: Hyperpower! mixes fairly standard alt-rock with the sounds of marching, screams and explosions. The Beginning Of The End and The Good Soldier are damn catchy. Meet Your Master is easily the funkiest song on the album. The first half of The Great Destroyer is excellent, until it degenerates into bleeps and static, which is an aspect of NIN I don't particularly like.
For me, In This Twilight is the most poignant - it's also probably the most optimistic and radio-friendly song on the album, with (ironically enough given that I just said it was optimistic) two doomed souls watching the final sunset before the imminent apocalypse.
All in all, it's an excellent album and I look forward to next instalment of the story due out next year. I have to confess, I'm curious as to where one can really go from the extinction of the human race... (Then again, Muse managed it after Absolution and released their best album to date, so fingers crossed!)
It goes without saying that Trent Reznor is a musical legend in his own right. Album after album, he changes his sound, tries to outreach his own limits, and normally somehow succeeds. And in "Year Zero", his latest offering, he certainly isn't playing it safe. The drugs have vanished, the gothic instrumental style, has vanished (apart from opener HYPERPOWER!). But does this make much of a difference? Based on "Survivalism" solely, no, and as for the rest of the album, you can give the same answer.
He flies through this album like a soaring rocket flying higher with more confidence, he sounds like he didn't try too hard, didn't find it too hard to make this record, and that is a little touch that makes it more pleasing overall. Obviously through, he can still produce the sense that the sky is going to fall in over your head like an enraged juggernaut, and can still make genuinely scary songs. The single, "Survialism" is glorious, unashamed and downright ugly. It's modern rhythm stunned my ears the first time I listened to it and it still does after its 30th listen. You will never to get tired of it, however that can't be said for every single song on this album.
"Vessel" has its jawdroppingly uncomfortably lyrics, "I'll let you put it in my mouth/ I'll let it get under my skin" and there is the mixture of electronica and heavy guitar, something which dominates the record, but there is something about it which puts you off listening to it again, it doesn't go too far. And the closer, "Zero Sum" leaves you feeling like you've heard it all before, but it's an interesting way to finish a record, to remind you of everything you've heard, whether it was purposeful or not.
But dear God, when NIN deliver, they deliver big time. "The Great Detroyser" enters its outrageous techno stage 1 and 3 quarter minutes in, your head shakes, not everybody will like it, but it sounds incredible with headphones on. As does "God Given", built up like a cheesy entertainer's words "come on, sing along, everybody now!", suddenly enters warp mode, disguising itself like a mystery, urging you to press that repeat button, just to check if you heard what you thought you heard.
There are strong moments, there are weak moments, it's one of those records.
Certainly not his best effort, but there are moments which could create the greatest, greatest hits album of all time if Reznor played his cards right.
on 1 June 2007
It has now been nearly 20 years since the release of Pretty Hate Machine, and Trent Reznor heads into his forties a changed man.
Much has been written about how Reznor has kicked his demons to the kerb, no longer taking the drugs or alchohol that fuelled the excess driven Downwoard Spiral / Fragil years.
'With Teeth', the precursor to 'Year Zero' saw a almost shy Reznor step back into the limelight, after many years of letting his one time protegee' Marilyn Manson take centre stage. It was, in Reznor's own admissions, disjointed and lacked the confidence that filled previous works.
However, with 'Year Zero', Reznor has found his muse again.
the opening track 'Hyperpower' starts the album with a bang, with loud coruscating guitars and synths fighting for supremacy, reaching a crescendo that harks back to 'Mr Self Destruct', the opener of TDS.
'The Beginning Of The End' gives an insight into where the album will take the listener - the ideas of this being a soundtrack to fifteen years hence is laid. The lyrics also point to Reznor now turning his attention to politics rather than the introspection of TDS or PHM - this is quite obviously his attack on the Bush regime (amongst others).
Survivalism, the first (and quite possibly the only, given Reznors recent attacks on record company greed) single taken from YZ is a dance floor stomp, as infectious as Closer, with backing vocals from Saul Williams.
Each track is outstanding, taking the listener through a journey which doesn't end here - this is but the first of three albums which will deal with the Year Zero Concept.
Written and recorded in hotel rooms around the world, Year Zero is purported to be the album on which Trent Reznor rediscovered his creative spark and started enjoying making music again. And while you could never call Nine Inch Nails' music cheery, or upbeat, in the traditional sense of the word, this is certainly Reznor's most adventurous, ambitious and inventive work to date.
On the first couple of listens, Year Zero doesn't amaze, but this is a record that houses hidden delights aplenty. There are tracks here that'll worm their way into your brain and have you pressing play almost immediately after this 60-minute disc has stopped. After the lacklustre With Teeth, Reznor shows he's one step ahead of the competition once again, with the likes of 'My Violent Heart' in which he showcases his unique ability to rock out without an over-reliance on guitars; 'Capital G' - a mischievous, Bush-baiting anthem with an almost comical vocal; and 'In This Twilight', which is a soothing, beauteous song that segues into the almost beatific album closer 'Zero-Sum'.
If anything, the nihilistic world view that informed NiN's previous albums has been replaced by something more considered, if no less bleak. Gone is the one-dimensional punk rage of say, Pretty Hate Machine and the introspective torment of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, and its place is something far more... well, musical. In this respect, Year Zero is neither a rock record nor an industrial one, but it is definitely one of the albums of the year so far.
on 16 June 2007
You know you're onto a good thing when an album begins with such chaotic vigour as Hyperpower!, the introductory track on this new record from Nine Inch Nails. This, their fifth full-length release, is a concept album set fifteen years into the future, in an America with state-controlled drug addictions, a powerful secret police, and super-aggressive foreign policy.
The vastness and vividness of this conception is mirrored in the album itself, which encompasses various genres through the varying characters portrayed - from snarling rock, to intense and noisy electronica, to hauntingly beautiful ballads. Capital G sums up the message of the whole of Green Day's American Idiot album in three minutes of attitude-laden synth rock, whilst God Given sounds like Sexyback's angrier, politically astute older brother.
However, the album's highlight is The Great Destroyer. The track keeps growing in stature before first a soaring of vocal harmonies, and then a great cascade of pounding electronic beats that Aphex Twin would be proud of.
The motif of the album is `Art is Resistance', and listening to this album, it truly is resistance - an attack on the complacency of the record industry, and of our society and where we are heading. An album that cannot be ignored.
on 16 April 2007
Utterly brilliant. Stripped-down and refined, Year Zero is the album that Trent Reznor has been threatening to make for nearly 20 years now: A symphony of electronica and noise that will surprise new listeners with its immediacy, freshness and accessibility while putting a huge grin on the faces of the Halo-faithful as we witness NIN's next step of evolution. This isn't the Reznor we're used to hearing...here, the anger is focussed outward rather than inward and the results are quite frankly stunning. Described by the man himself as an album to "dance or **** to."
To fully enjoy the concept of this album, get over to one of the many NIN forums and join in with the Art Is Resistance alternate-reality game.
on 16 April 2007
...I'm totally blown away by this.
Trent has found a groove again. Gone are the traditional rock sounds, gone are the Dave Grohl drums. Instead Trent has picked up his Macbook (or whatever they call it) and created a kind of more modern Pretty Hate Machine.
My standouts are, 'My Violent Heart', with its almost Public Enemy style production (and it isn't the only song to have some hip-hop stylings), the infectious 'God Given' with it's terrific wobbly bass and thumping beat, and the closer, 'Zero Sum', in all it's bittersweet glory.
Trent Reznor has never really been a bundle of sunshine, but he reaches a new level of darkness in Nine Inch Nails' "Year Zero."
It's a pessimistic view of what the world might be in 2022, if all of society were to decay (which doesn't really happen, but still...). And he unleashes this nihilism in a sweeping, razor-edged concept album, full of pointed lyrics and ominous electro-rock.
It opens with the rapid drums of "Hyperpower," an intro that weaves in some fuzzy bass and spasmodic electronica. It segues into a tight, spare hard-rocker with squiggling synth, with Reznor being drowned out as he sings, "Down on your knees/You'll be left behind/This is the beginning/Watch what you think/They can read your mind..."
The songs that follow are suitably bleak hard-rockers laced with synth -- the undulating creepy "Survivalism," slow-burning hard-rock ballads, explosive muscular rockers, razor-edged electrorock, and the rapid smash'n'rapping of "Capital G," which is unsurprisingly about a certain president.
"Year Zero" is a tight coil of nihilistic rock, unwinding to show off its dark message as the songs go on. While society has never utterly crumbled all at once, this album sounds like the soundtrack to the ultimate apocalypse movie, with hints of oppression and corruption from all sides.
His music is basically a combination of hammering bass and drums and a tight muscular guitar. There's also that classic electronic edge -- jabs of steely synth sometimes, squealing screeches at others, and frenetic squidges at others. It's all twisted together into ominous, unstoppable melodies.
And Reznor howls out haunting songs, which are full of misery, numbness, some rather excessive jabs at religion, jagged political barbs, laments, and sometimes gleeful anger ("Come on down, my friend/It's time to meet your MASTER!"). The rapping sound was a bad idea, though -- it sounds too forthright for the rest of the album.
But there seems to be a faint glimmer of hope in the final song, where he intones "May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts," and relates, "And I guess I just wanted to tell you, as the lights start to fade,/That you are the reason that I am not afraid... as the heavens will fall,/We will be together soon if we will be anything at all." It ends with windy synth and a delicate piano outro.
Darkness and pessimism rule "Year Zero," a blistering and tightly written ode to a bleak worst-case-scenario future. Dark, ominous and thoroughly amazing.
on 23 April 2007
Year Zero ,the fifth (full length) album released by Nine Inch Nails, is a major success. Despite the core elements of NIN remain the same (the fuzzing distortion, insanely catchy riffs and machine gun sounding drum machines) each and every album has its own unique sound and personality. Year Zero is a concept album that is themed around a dystopian earth in the year 2022. The concept itself is pretty complex but very interesting. Most of the songs on Year Zero are good and each has song has its own personality, the album starts with anger and energy then at the end becomes in a way dreamy (which isn't a bad thing). highlights for me were Survivalism, Good Soldier, Vessel and the Warning.
on 10 May 2007
Just a quick point. I'm very surpeised no one has commented on the song 'God Given', probably my favourite song on the album. I got chills the first time I heard it. The lyrics are just fantastic. And it's really catchy music too.
What amazes me is the way that Trent has magaged to catch so nany moods and opinions. There are songs from the point of view of the government, the resistance, the soldier, the citizen, the church, the Presence, and others I haven't figured out yet!
And yes, it does need to be listened to with the volume turned up. It's the only way to appreciate the nuances in the music.