As great as the idea of a concept album is, pulling off the overall theme
may be harder than imagined. Take for example Nine Inch Nails'
latest endeavor Year Zero, a piece that imagines the totalitarian
regime of the Bush administration taken to the nth degree, complete with
a bureau of morality to guide the flock of this nation. While it works
well as an album, it just doesn't grab the plot and take it to that next
level where other bands, such as The Who, Pink Floyd, or
more recently, Green Day, have achieved that unification of thought.
As much as I love NIN, I just wish that I had never heard this was supposed
to be concept album, because I love Trent Reznor's work, and the
idea is great, but the execution just doesn't satisfy the expectation.
The thread that links these songs together is there, but it is a fine
piece of thread that is more on the nuance level than the overt imagery.
And as much as I believe Trent Reznor when he said he didn't focus on
his personal diary for inspiration, it still contains so many Reznor-isms
that it is hard to divorce the two.
First off, I do have to say that this is a great record; I rank it somewhere
between With Teeth and Downward Spiral as to content and
form. Being a fan from album one (Halo one as it were) I have long admired
the growth and arc that NIN has come to represent, myself maturing as
the albums did, as well. So I find it interesting that certain aspects
of this album hearken all the way back to the beginning, even before the
beginning with the 80's band The Exotic Birds. Sounds almost seem
reused as subtle reminders of things past, while focusing on the evolution.
Over the course of NIN's career keyboard and drums have both held major
influences in the music, with a sort of give and take between which one
was more persistent. Here the drums blessedly win in the fray with a lot
more beat heavy tracks, which rival Pretty Hate Machine for intensity.
Lyrically, as I alluded to above, Trent Reznor is in fine jaded form,
voicing the government lackey and freedom fighter position equally well,
managing almost anthem riddled hooks. In fact, he voices his inner Republican
extremely well with convincing arguments in "Capital G" such
as "I'm sick of hearing 'bout the haves and the have nots/have some
personal accountability". His increased use of syncopation while
singing creates some interesting rhythm dynamics in songs like "Survivalism"
combined with his increased use of falsetto he still shows a willingness
to act outside the box, and shatter any sort of pre-conceived notions
he works against.
And if there was any doubt as to the temperance of age reducing the intensity
of his music, one just has to actually listen to this album to be assuaged
of that fear. Every bit of NIN tension and angst is present, which permeates
every song to the point of straining. While there are more subtle moments
across the record, they prove to be well calculated preludes to some vicious
breakout sections; "My Violent Heart" and "Meet Your Master"
being my favorite examples of such.
Point blank, this is an excellent album, and an awesome addition to the
NIN legacy. Fans should applaud the effort and non-fans should pick it
up for its accessibility and hooks. As a theme it works, but ultimately
doesn't paint a complete enough picture to warrant being placed with other
great concept works.
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