CD Review: Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero

By Brian Williams for Cinema Blend on April 19, 2007

It was Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider who once said he couldn’t write serious songs about teenage rebellion and angst while sitting beside the pool at one of his mansions with his lingerie model wife.

True. The same could be said of us average blokes, minus the mansions; as you age, you do tend to mellow out some. Even for Nine Inch Nails’ Mr. Everything, Trent Reznor.

Reznor’s dark and doom-laden lyrical messages, delivered behind the sonic wall of industrial sound that was the NIN signature, gave him a creative outlet and in turn gave others the same. But it also bred a fair share of success, showing that even the toughest Nails can break when Reznor admitted in an interview years back he found it “hard to be angry.”

Pretty, adoring wife. Beautiful, bouncing baby. Respect. Fans. Mountains of cash. Enemies of the bleak world view for sure. After 2005’s so-so With Teeth, the hardcores wondered if Trent had lost a little bite, that maybe he’d found an uncharacteristic happy place that just might send him further up the Spiral. And it just might’ve been the case … ‘til now.

Conceived as a concept album, Year Zero, specifically referring to the year 2022 in the album’s storyline, marries the modern-thinking Reznor with the NIN of yesterday. Gone is the almost live production of the previous Teeth, replaced by the inhuman mechanics reminiscent of classics like The Fragile (my personal fave), and the end result is a pleasing one. Whereas select songs from NIN’s back-catalog had a singsong vibe to them, Year Zero offers no sonic comfort zone, never allowing listeners the chance to absorb what’s being offered before flooring them with the next track.

NIN have flirted for years with rock radio rotation, with singles like “Hurt,” “Head Like a Hole” and "Closer," the strippers’ anthem of choice, getting the most attention. But Year doesn’t really hint at any singles, as if the whole work is to be taken as one big 16-song single.

“The Good Soldier”’ has a slower tempo that immediately melts away into the hard-driving “Vessel,” as the audience is taken deeper into Reznor’s social commentary of the current (thus future) condition of society. Of note would be “Capital G,” as Reznor assumes the viewpoint of what could be the story’s antagonists by offering “I don’t care what the temperature is in Guatemala,” a realistic take on the U.S.’ collective opinion about global environmental conditions. The attack of “My Violent Heart,” the best as far as vintage-styled Nails goes, takes a stand against violent images lovingly engaged by the media, another black mark on humanity’s civility.

Every track adds value to the overall statement of Year Zero: It's as much about hardline liberal politics (as much as he cares to do) as it is about hard rock entertainment. Reznor has said his concept of how society will eventually collapse--marking the start of the end of the modern world--came to him in a recurring daydream, making the album strangely that much more prophetic.

Year Zero stands alone as a fantastic piece of work, and if you’ve been following, a fantastic piece of marketing too. Little bits of info dropped here and there in varied forms (concerts, releases, online, etc.) add to the dramatic effect of bringing fans into the story’s concept, but, in perfect form, offers no answers to how to derail this train before it heads down the wrong track.

Maybe there’s no stopping it anyway. But if that’s the cards the world has been dealt, and the 2022 deadline is approaching, you might as well enjoy it. Year Zero is the perfect soundtrack for the rest of the ride.

Transcribed by JessicaSarahS

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