Rating ***

By James Berry for Crud Reviews on April 29, 2005

It would be like opening a bag of crisps to find they’d dropped spuds from the ingredients list without telling you. Going to bed in your clothes then shedding them all before leaving the house in the morning. Putting your headphones on and not pressing play. You get the idea? Of course Trent’s still a bit testy. About what? About everything, probably. He’s neither grown up with his audience or out of the blunt angst that made his name in the first place. So of course it comes as no surprise to find him angrily imparting “DON’T! YOU! FUCK! ING! KNOW! WHAT! YOU! ARE!?” as a virtual scythe carves his splintering voice up into tiny electronic shards by track 2. Supply and demand – it’s simple economics. There will always be miserable teenagers. Marilyn Manson probably put it best with ‘Disposable Teens’ – though that was obviously intended as a clarion call to the disenfranchised, Nine Inch Nails’ longevity embodies a much truer meaning.

It’s no surprise to find this obviously isn’t as important as his landmark ‘The Downward Spiral’ either, it is however a bit of a revelation to discover it’s as vital as it occasionally is, as even the packaging looks tired on first examination. After the overtly comfortable sounding and unnecessarily extended ‘The Fragile’ double it’s actually a relief to hear him get back to the point. Even if it’s getting increasingly hard to suspend your disbelief where his wretched toiling is concerned. This album comes at a time when the apprentice once known as Brian Warner was looking like he was no longer the challenger, but as he runs out of tricks Trent Reznor proves that no matter how big your goth stilts or video budgets it’s always worth concentrating on your craft.

There are a whole bunch of pedestrian moments, like the NIN-by-faded-numbers single ‘The Hand That Feeds’, the lumbering ‘The Line Begins To Blur’ and fittingly ‘Everyday Is Exactly the Same’. ‘Only’ almost falls into this bracket, but is enough of a Depeche Mode tribute to pull through, and like the rest of the album it’s given – ahem – teeth thanks to Alan Moulder’s excellently bulbous production. It’s the moments when he lets the beats lead the way though that the record really justifies itself, from the opening hushed breakbeats of ‘All The Love In The World’ to the stomping Ministry-esque industrialism of ‘Getting Smaller’, the frantic crossed-wires, take-no-prisoners onslaught of ‘You Know Who You Are’ and the excellent groaning tribal title track. He no longer sounds like a man at breaking point, in fact he sounds like a man in control. It’s still intermittently thrilling, just not quite so brilliantly and perversely so.

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