Nine Inch Nails returns to its roots with 'Year Zero'

By Gannett News Service for Cherry Hill Courier Post on April 20, 2007

Nine Inch Nails

Year Zero (***1/2) -- Preceded for months by a growing mysterious maze of Web sites littered with shards of a sci-fi nightmare set in 2022, Trent Reznor's wildly anticipated concept album risked becoming another Al Capone vault. Instead, it's one of the sonic auteur's most complex and audacious works to date and a welcome return to cyber form after 2005's solid but unchallenging rock-oriented With Teeth.

Year Zero presents a dystopian wasteland of mind-control, totalitarianism, ecological ruin and alienation -- Reznor's home base. And the music's hollow vibe, tense clatter and machined beats brilliantly deliver his nihilistic vision.

Seething with fury, vengeance, paranoia, anxiety and grief, Reznor sings with greater range and assurance, expanding beyond the whisper/scream tack of the past. Din arm-wrestles melody at every turn, and while he excels at whipping up storms of industrial-strength static and synthesized freak-outs, Reznor can't camouflage the pure pop craft, gonzo hooks and emotional drama in surprisingly tuneful songs that cop from hip-hop, funk and new wave.

Deep grooves, explosive choruses and moments of ecstatic release counter the chaos, so that a lonely piano and waves of creepy feedback coexist snuggly in "Another Version of the Truth," and "The Great Destroyer" maintains arena-rock buoyancy despite racket that sounds like a short-circuiting R2-D2.

Adrift in a metal scrap yard and fused to his keyboard, Reznor could be the ultimate aggro-iconoclastic outsider, except his pop smarts keep showing.

Download: full-bore "Survivalism," push/pull "My Violent Heart," intense noisefest "Meet Your Master," cyber meltdown "Vessel," chilling closer "Zero-Sum"

Consider: "God Given," unusually restrained "The Good Soldier"

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