Tragedy cures Reznor's writer's block

By Mike Daniel for Dallas Morning News on April 17, 2007

Trent Reznor has cured his legendary, chronic writer's block. The solution was looking without for inspiration instead of within.

As Nine Inch Nails, Mr. Reznor became the sex symbol of malcontent pop by hacking through his psyche's dark regions and reporting on its contents with mechanized fury and originality. But buzz saws of the id can dull with age and use, and his has; since NIN's watershed 1994 album, The Downward Spiral, his industrial signature has stagnated and his ideas have stretched into thin semibanality.

Then, Hurricane Katrina wiped away his New Orleans home and studio in 2005. Later, he had a dream about Armageddon involving current powers, which hatched a concept for a new CD.

That disc, Year Zero, was largely recorded while on tour in 2006 and marks salvation and a profound return to NIN's early years when rhythms dissected bowels, lyrics assaulted then assuaged the brain, and electronic noise soothed then frayed then regenerated nerve bundles.

Only now, Mr. Reznor seethes at the world, not at himself. Set in the year 2022, Year Zero documents a world end brought forth by dirty-bomb attacks, heavenly visions and a government that has drugged its citizens. The CD's Internet-anchored hype machine, involving fake Web sites, leaked songs, noise spectrography and planted USB flash drives at European NIN shows, is ingenious itself. (Check www.ninwiki.com for a synopsis.)

But the songs are as monumental as the theory. "Survivalism" is like no NIN single before: a pounding, hopped-up, party-hearty, neo-wave militia march. Mr. Reznor's faux Cockney enunciations in "Capital G" give the track a subversive and hilariously ironic air. "The Great Destroyer" is at first declarative but devolves into a video-game battle soundtrack, followed by the stark, poisonous piano instrumental "Another Version of the Truth." The closing electro-eulogy, "Zero-Sum," thuds with tense, morose bass and whispered regrets before that same piano fades into total black silence.

According to Mr. Reznor, Year Zero is "more than just a record in scale" and is the initial part of a project, probably involving more Web shenanigans, a tour and perhaps a second recording. Whatever the future holds, he's laid the foundation for it with a conceptual gem.


Year Zero (Interscope)

Transcribed by Lt. Randazzo

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