'Be a patriot...be an informer!'
By Fish Griwkowsky for Edmonton Sun on April 22, 2007
As a piece of protest in the form of a massive art installation, Year Zero is the most ambitious thing Trent Reznor has ever successfully attempted.
It's portrait of a dystopian America of 2022, one that drugs its citizens, executes protesters and has endured nuclear war with the Middle East. Democracy is over.
For months now, there's been a stream of viral marketing and intentionally leaked songs, including a web-based maze of historical sites from the future which includes photos from the dirty-bombed ruins of the 81st Academy Awards.
The entire project mirrors David Bowie's Outside, where he painted the turn of the 20th century a few years early, seen through the eyes of a serial-killer-as-artist.
Reznor's foray into science fiction is wider, bleaker and just plain freaky - especially given the "Presence," a four-fingered hand that comes down from the sky at the end of the narrative.
Is it the result of mass hallucination? Theories abound on the NIN wiki.
But what about the music, the new "soundtrack" to all this? Reznor made most of the album in his spare time on the road for the With Teeth tour. It's jagged and piecemeal, yet coherent.
The man is a master producer, after all. I've been following this band since the beginning, but if With Teeth was your entry point in 2005, you might find this one too noisy and complicated. It's more subtle.
Though it's still solidly pop-industrial, Trent has gone back to the days of Broken and Fixed, EPs so hard and fuzzy and distorted and violent they still require a certain temperament to swallow. You have to be seriously on board.
Year Zero isn't as harrowing as Fixed throughout, there's plenty of hooks and even still waters - but it does dive deep into the static more than once. It's also no Downward Spiral, as some critics have said - unless you listen to the music while looking at the accompanying Web material.
Then it becomes something else, more complete, certainly revolutionary. A next-generation step, as they say in the gaming world, entirely user-driven and unique.
Back is also Reznor's vaguely homoerotic "becoming" theme, especially on the crunchy Vessel, a clear shot at the idea of being born again. But like so much on this album, taken to its extreme speculative limit.
Though I understand there is a tonal theme, one mud-covered and coughing and powerless, what's missing is a perfect hit for the overture, though the melted guitars on The Warning should be on every radio.
The songs are powerful, the ideas, like "there's bullet holes where my compassion used to be," focused. But given the larger art of the thing it's forgivable.
This album is absolutely intended as a warning, including a sticker on the back that states "Be a patriot - be an informer!"
As Reznor's most political work, it's also intended to urge a resistance. He saw something in the eyes of hundreds of thousands fans out there on his last tour that scared him. This is an absolutely fascinating reaction that transcends a mere record. Truly wild.
Transcribed by JessicaSarahS