With one of the most unique marketing campaigns ever created for an album -- requiring fans to decode hidden phone numbers and dozens of Web sites to keep up with an increasingly complex storyline -- it made sense to fear that "Year Zero," the fifth album from Trent Reznor's one-man band Nine Inch Nails, might not live up to the hype.
My advice: Never doubt Trent Reznor. He always puts obsessive work and detail in his music. "Year Zero" is another extraordinary example of Reznor's genius.
Some people criticized Nine Inch Nails' previous album, "With Teeth," for not being experimental. Anyone who believed that is going to be overjoyed by the madness Reznor brings to his music here. "With Teeth" was the band's most guitar-bass-and-drums themed work; "Year Zero" is probably its most electronic-based album. Everything on this album buzzes, fuzzes, shrieks, warps, and everything else you could imagine coming from electronic instruments. Songs "Me, I'm Not" and "The Good Soldier" actually seem almost rooted in hip hop. A large part of the enjoyment of Nine Inch Nails is the sheer excitement of hearing what kind of noises Reznor can produce when fooling around with keyboards and drum machines, and Reznor sounds like he's just having fun with noise here. And if he is, we are, too.
The album's much talked-about storyline isn't as clearly illustrated in the lyrics as it was in the marketing campaign. But it's still fairly easy to figure out what's going on. We get several perspectives from people in this future America: The soldier who is morally conflicted with what he's doing ("The Good Soldier"), disgruntled citizens anxious for a revolution ("Me, I'm Not," "My Violent Heart"), and a giant hand from the sky known as "The Presence" that serves as some kind of warning. We also hear from the fascist leader of this America in "Capital G," a bitter song that could be seen as a relating to Bush in more than just title ("I pushed the button and elected him to office/He pushed the button and he dropped the bomb"). Reznor's vivid imagination is at its best in the lyrics, even if he still has some trouble with teenage poetry-esque obvious rhyming ("And they gave us sight/And you'll see the light/And it burned so bright/Now you know we're right").
Because of the dark subject, you'd expect "Year Zero" to be NIN's darkest album since the infamous soundtrack to misery, "The Downward Spiral." Quite the contrary, as its electronic influence actually makes it NIN's most pop-oriented album since "Pretty Hate Machine." A lot of the album is catchy, bright-sounding, even a lot of fun. It's only toward the end that the underlying sense of dread and Reznor's signature morbid nature set in. The last five songs or so, including the eerie whisper-and-electronic-loops "The Greater Good," the chilling piano interlude "Another Version of the Truth," and the haunting finale brought on by "In This Twilight" and "Zero-Sum," are some of NIN's darkest songs ever.
Reznor has said that "Year Zero" is merely the beginning of a larger storyline which he plans to follow up in the future. Great news, but also important in that "Year Zero" seems to usher in a new era for Nine Inch Nails. Reznor built himself in the 90's as the spokesman for teenage angst and has continued to beat up on himself ever since. But everyone who spent puberty moping to "The Downward Spiral" is all grown up now, and Reznor can only push his depression so far. He knows this, of course. "Year Zero" still showcases Reznor's feeling about religion (it's awful), government (it's awful), and society (it's really awful), but it isn't all too introspective. It's simply Reznor looking back at our society and writing what he sees. "Year Zero" marks the end of Reznor's woe-is-me mantra and the beginning of his tackling important world issues. Reznor is expanding his horizons into dangerous places. Buy "Year Zero" and get prepared. DOWNLOAD THESE: "In This Twilight," "The Great Destroyer"
Jason Silverstein is a sophomore at Williamsville North.