Nails need a hammer

By LUCIANA LOPEZ for The Oregonian on April 20, 2007

It's still early for a 2007 best-of list, but let's go out on a limb and give the new Nine Inch Nails album, "Year Zero," the sash for "best viral marketing plan." Regular old leaks weren't good enough for Trent Reznor et al. -- or at least not "X-Files"-y enough. Instead, USB drives with songs from the album were found in restrooms of NIN concert venues (what a coinkydink!). Spelling-aware fans then noticed that highlighted letters on a band T-shirt spelled out I Am Trying To Believe. Take out the spaces, add a .com and voila -- the first of many Web sites that painted a picture of a dystopic future, complete with totalitarian government, a possible brainwashing drug in the water and a mysterious presence reaching down from the sky.

In other words, the concept behind "Year Zero."

But if the album's description feels packed, imagine the album itself. Heavy narrative burdens weigh down the lyrics with exposition, which often feels forced. And the album overall is challenging to get into; this isn't a first-, second- or even third-listen record, but one that takes repeated spins to jell.

Even so, the album (better than NIN's previous effort, "With Teeth") has its moments of sweeping vision. NIN mastermind Reznor has generally grounded the album in harsh, jagged guitars, with songs capturing different points of view, as with the longing "In This Twilight."

Sometimes, though, his lyrics are trite ("The Beginning of the End" sounds like bad middle school poetry) or the music drags, such as "Zero Sum."

Still, if few of the songs on "Year Zero" stand alone, it's worth noting that maybe the album isn't meant to stand alone, either -- besides all the Web sites created for the project, there's reportedly a movie in the works, too. Just picture the marketing campaign for that one.

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