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Review: Year Zero, Nine Inch Nails

By Poopface Morty for Arrogantics.com on April 5, 2007

Welcome readers to Arrogantics; first album review. With the news today that Nine Inch Nails was going to post their new album, Year Zero, in it's entirety on their site via streaming audio, I saw this as a perfect time to grab a listen (several listens, actually) to this new concept album and see if it was really as good as I was hoping, and let you all know how it holds up. I'll admit, I may have some bias as I've been looking forward to this for some time, but I'll remain as objective as possible. You know the drill, I'll make a run-down of all the tracks and the impressions, and then you all post in the comments and tell me how much of a moron I am. Got it? OK, let's get this show on the road

Hyperpower!: The opening instrumental. This abrupt but ominous tune sets the stage for the rest of the album. This is about as close to The Downward Spiral NIN as you’re going to get; it all ends in a cacophony of noise, very similar to that era for NIN.

Beginning of the End: Almost a more ‘proper’ intro to the album (though short as well, registering at just under three minutes), it starts with a basic drum beat and progressively vamps with the trademark screeching guitars. It all calms down before it gets too out of control, which there’s no need to fret as the next track will give you the intensity you might be looking for. All in all, not much to write home about, though this song lends itself to a quality live performance.

Survivalism: The first single off the album, and chances are one you’ve heard already. I find myself growing weary of it only because I’ve heard it so much already, but that’s more due to my selfish overexposure to it. It’s still a solid track, and like ‘Beginning of the End’ it lends itself to a potentially awesome live performance; from what I’ve seen on YouTube, this is the case. It’s fast paced, not too lyrically complex though Reznor goes quick through some of the words, and the chorus delivers a powerful, ‘at-attention’ verve. It all initially sounds purely electronic, but is balanced out by the riffs during the chorus. A definite download if you haven’t already.

The Good Soldier: I will admit that up until now I was getting a bit concerned that this album was going to be too similar to prior NIN outings. Fortunately it changes pace here, and is not the only song where the album does so. This track sounds almost out of place in the NIN library, but I must say I’ve said the same about every one of their new albums. It starts off with a slow tempo, and before you get to the chorus, you expect it to vamp out of control as the guitars get slightly heavier, but instead it mellows out with a synth that accompanies the already mellow beat; a subtle touch, but subtle works. Very chill, and dare I say, relaxing for ‘Nails. I approve.

Vessel: So far this is hands down my favorite. I hear many comparisons to ‘Closer,’ and I can see why. Funky and abrasive electronic sounds, lyrics that are about as close to innuendo without being blatantly obvious, and a beat that is perfect to ‘do the nasty’ to. Opening with the lyrics “I let you put it in my mouth…I let it get under my skin…I let you put it in my veins…I let you take me from within”, you can see the parallels to their former hit, though it may not be as blunt about it. I won’t go as far and say this supplants ‘Closer’ as the song to put on during coitus, but it’s definitely close. It all ends with a bit of ‘electronic confusion’ rather than the melodic close of ‘Closer,’ but given the theme of the album and the Alternate Reality Game sites they have posted, it doesn’t at all seem out of place. Pure awesome.

Me, I’m Not: One of the ‘leaked’ tracks. It’s another slower paced song, more brooding than the prior songs. A lot of erratic audio processes applied over the vocals requires a closer listen, what with the chorus’s “hey, can we stop…me, I’m not.” It’s an alright track, probably won’t be on a lot of favorites, but it fits the overall theme of the album.

Capital G: Trent Reznor doesn’t like George W. Bush, with a capital G. This is about as obvious as he can make it.

I pushed the button and elected him to office and
He pushed the button and he dropped the bomb
You pushed the button and could watch it on the television
Those motherf@#!ers didn’t last too long

With those opening lyrics, spoken very similar to Powerman 5000’s frontman Spider One, you pretty much know what you’re going to expect. Similar to Survivalism, it’s brought from the point of view of his metaphysical polar opposite (”Don’t give a s**t about the temperature in Guatemala…Don’t really see what all the fuss is about”). The first thing you’ll notice about this song is the catchy beat that lends itself to radio play, but the lyrics will more than likely keep this one off the airwaves, which is fine as I’d rather the radio not sully something like this.

My Violent Heart: The first ‘leaked’ track to the public, it opens with some rather underwhelming dialogue and a minimal beat, but once the chorus hits, the noise hits you at ear-bleeding levels. This may not be one of my top tracks only because it’s been available to listen the longest of all the leaked tracks, but it also sits in the middle of the tracklist, where several of the songs seem to share a similar pace, so it doesn’t exactly stand out. Good for a few listens, but not a must-download if you’re one of those people who cherrypick tracks from iTunes (for shame!).

The Warning: Another slow to mid paced track, the electronic sounds aren’t quite as prominent as the guitars. However, this track plays a vital role in the overall scheme of things, as it makes reference to what is called ‘The Presence.’ If you look at the cover above, or at the Year Zero trailer, you see what appears to be a tornado-like hand dropping from the sky…that’s The Presence. What it is exactly is a bit of a mystery, but the lyrics are clearly referring to it:

I was standing right there
When it came down from the sky

Ultimately, the song is another mish-mash of electronic sounds and guitars, similar to ‘Me, I’m Not’ in ways, but a much more defined guitar riff. Not one of my favorites, but I see this one growing on me. Listen at the end for the audio noise…those of you who have obtained the My Violent Heart leak will recognize it. Thankfully, it’s nowhere near as loud.

God Given: I thought I was listening to ‘My Violent Heart’ for a second time, what with the way the opening beat starts off, but before you know it, you swear you’re in a friggin’ dance club. This is about as poppy I’ve ever heard Nine Inch Nails, but is that good or bad? You’ll have to hear for yourself to make a judgement; I personally find nothing wrong with it, but I did a double take when the audio stopped–the song seemingly over–and Reznor came back in with “Hey, step into the light,” dare I say Timberlake style. If you hear this getting regular play at your local dance clubs, don’t be surprised. And this is an excellent alternative for those of you looking to get your ‘thang on, but aren’t digging ‘Vessel.’

Meet Your Master: Again, it’s another mid-paced rock song that falls in line with ‘Me, I’m Not’ and ‘The Warning.’ The synths in the background remind me of video games of old I used to play, which is an aural plus. Otherwise, another so-so track that I’ll probably skip around.

The Greater Good: Picking up where ‘Meet Your Master’ left off, this could pretty much be considered entirely instrumental. Yes, there are lyrics, but they are spoken so soft and hauntingly that it might as well be background noise, not that that’s a bad thing. This is more of a transition song, if you will, to the last act of the album, starting with The Great Destroyer. A bit more lengthy and involved than your typical ‘filler’ track. It does give an ominous eye-of-the-storm kind of feeling…

The Great Destroyer: I’ll be honest, if there’s one song I wouldn’t give a second listen, or at least fast-forward through, it would be this one. The first half sounds similar to some of the stuff I’ve heard on radio from others bands I don’t bother with. After that though, once he hits “The Great DestroyERRRRRRRRR!!!!”, the song turns into the electronic-synth boogaloo, and boy is it LOUD. This may be your cup of tea, but it isn’t mine.

Another Version Of The Truth: For those of you who have the limited edition ‘Still’ album from NIN, you will notice a familiar tune, but I would go as far to say that this is even more lonesome than what ‘Still’ offers. This hauntingly beautiful track is so eerie it’s quivering. Purely instrumental, with Reznor at the piano and some background noise throughout the first half, this is one of those rainy day, introspective tracks that definitely offsets the chaotic electronic noise of the rest of the album. Basically, it’s ‘A Warm Place’ for Year Zero.

In This Twilight: One of the last leaked tracks, this has the makings of a fan favorite. This is where we get a hint at some possible vocal training for Reznor as he hits some of the higher notes in the chorus, and much better than he did in the ‘With Teeth’ album. Backed by a repetitive screeching beat, it is pulled off so well that it stands above the others. This reminds me a lot of ‘Home’ from the ‘With Teeth’ import CD, but a little longer, and it’s another song that seems reasonable for radio.

Zero Sum: Is it wrong for me to admit that I have no idea what he’s saying? The chorus is almost intelligible, still difficult to make out. They almost sound like TV on the Radio, to tell the truth, which is a good thing. While the song initially sounds similar to many of the other tracks, the piano in the background is a dead give away that everything is almost over, falling into a sort of somber decline. This is a similar closer to “Right Where it Belongs” that, once it gets to the end, is able to bring you back to a quiver, much like ‘Another Version of the Truth’ does on it’s own. For an album closer, it does OK, nowhere near as powerful as Hurt, which I’m not sure will be topped anyway, but in the overall context of the Year Zero concept, I feel it fits perfectly.

All in all, this is a solid effort by Reznor, but there seems to be a few hiccups. Some of the tracks are initially forgettable, but they add to the overall gestalt of the album, and their presence is all the more necessary. Some songs are more immediately accessible than others, and I’m sure with subsequent listens, some that I thought were so-so will probably grow on me. As far as the overall concept, I’d have to wait longer with more listens to really have a grasp of the bigger picture. I can see some of the connects, but there’s a lot going on, and this is just the first part of a two part concept that will be fleshed out via another CD.

8/10

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