Review Summary: Trent Reznor makes an easily digestible album with hooks galore, heart, and loads of what we have come to expect from NIN. And he does it better then he has in nearly 15 years. Angst? What angst, this is fun, interesting, dark, and entertaining.
It is hard to believe Trent Reznor has been doing this nearly 20 years. Between NIN's first full length release in 1989, Pretty Hate Machine, numerous albums of odds and ends, live performances, and the explosion of the now classic "The Downward Spiral" LP, Reznor has dazzled us with his musical brilliance, annoyed us with his angst, surprised us with his humanity, and shocked us with his dark vision. Some would say he disappointed with the lean and somewhat uninspired (to the ears of some listeners at least) "With Teeth" album. Not a bad effort, but coming nearly six years after the commercially under performing and hard to digest double disc The Fragile, many were hoping for something with a bit more imagination and bite. "Year Zero," for loyal and casual fans alike delivers that bite.
Perhaps recognizing the amount of time he takes between full original releases (typically five years since TDS) along with his dark genius reputation raises expectations for greatness beyond reason, Reznor wasted no time in bringing Year Zero to the masses. Coming just two years after the release of With Teeth Reznor has called the album a work of "inspiration" that fell into place out of some doodling on a laptop. Doodling led to an idea, an idea turned into framework for songs, and both finally came together as a total work. Easier said then done? Perhaps. But on Year Zero it sounds as natural as waking up in the morning.
While Reznor has had no problem alienating a listener or two in the past, on Year Zero its obvious from the beginning he wants to draw those same listeners in from the start. From the martial drum intro that begins the brief album opener "HYPERPOWER" to the "My Sharona" like drum intro of "The Beginning Of The End" the record grabs you from the start and simply never lets go. All of Reznor's tried and true tricks are on display from the start from his rock god guitar roar to his electronica synth droning to the solid thump and thwack of his industrial inspired percussion, all delivered with the painstaking precision we have come to expect from the NIN team. And also with heart and close attention to texture and conventional songwriting structure, which in the past has been pushed back somewhat in favor of hit and miss experimentation and careening blind rage.
The first half of Year Zero is clearly crafted to draw you into its world with an emphasis on hooks and even a funky vibe (not to say funk, per se) not found on a NIN album since perhaps The Downward Spiral. The groove of songs like "The Good Soldier" with its cool electronic soulfulness never give way to a whisper to a scream style rage one might expect and instead holds its steady groove throughout before flowing into the next track, the industrial chant of "Vessel," which while harder in tone and rife with the sort of electronic noise Reznor is known for maintains itself very well throughout, never digressing from it's set pattern or musical theme. It simply pulls you in and keeps you in. And in you remain, never with a thought of "what the hell is this" or an inkling to hit the skip button from hearing it all before. This is interesting music as is the usual from this artist, but it is also vastly entertaining and not at all alienating. Indeed rather then repulse on Year Zero Reznor seeks to attract and seduce you into his vision, and he succeeds on any and all levels.
One of the reasons for all this success may be on account Trent had an external road map to follow rather then simply his own sense of artistic direction and often tangled emotions, demons, and immediate concerns. Year Zero is a "story" album set in a not so distant future where a religious dictatorship has taken over the U.S. with signs of the apocalypse all around, and it's not Trent's first idea of a concept album. With Teeth was initially moving in that direction but with more personal overtones and more convoluted and pretentious undertones. Year Zero on the other hand is pleasantly void of Reznor's personal side and although it is his vision it is nothing new, but instead readily familiar. In fact it would be fair to say it borders on cliche with lyrics about mind control, dogma, and oppression of body and spirit throughout. But if all that sounds like a bit much to you, not to worry, as its all done very well and squarely hits its mark. And thankfully for those of us less interested in Trent's somewhat second hand story and more interested in how it affected his creative focus and music making you can enjoy Year Zero while keeping the "concept" squarely on the back burner.
So having drawn you in with the strong rock hook and setting up a nice groove on the first half of the album, the rest of the going here is much the same as Reznor relaxes into what seems familiar but newly tailored clothing for the rest of the proceedings, giving us dark electronica such as the foreboding "The Warning" and the aggressive funky chant of the buoyant "God Given". In fact this may be the first NIN album since The Downward Spiral that inspires not just visions of a dark place and time (emotional and otherwise) but also strong visions of some creative dance oriented remixes geared toward the dark underbelly of after hours clubs everywhere. Perhaps from his time spent with Bowie in the late '90's or simply by recalling his own long ago inspirations, Reznor's sense of groove and style (yes, he has one) is in full effect on Year Zero, and it makes for a full, richly textured, and ultimately uniform listening experience we can not only enjoy upon several listenings but one that will grow after many more, as well.
Perhaps the fact this is a concept album helped Reznor loosen up a little. And while usually bringing what is inside to the outside, on Year Zero Reznor instead looks outside, brings it in, and spits it out not based on his own feelings, but as a thing unto itself, therefore freeing himself of the whiny torture that has plagued some NIN recordings and freeing the listener to make whatever they damn well please of it, concept or no. Make no mistake this is NIN as usual, but it's an effortless, inspired, and unaffected Trent Reznor the likes of which we may not have had the pleasure of knowing for almost a decade and a half. And Year Zero has the sound of year one all over again. Or at least 1994. And it's no doubt all the better for it.
Good job on the review, a lot less discussion of the concept as I was expecting. I wouldn't say that is a bad thing though.
I'll probably listen to this sooner or later even though Downward Spiral is the only other NIN I've heard in full.
yeah i wanted to avoid the concept thing on a whole. i touched on it at the conclusion, but i don't feel like its what drives the album, although it inspired it, obviously. i see this as any other NIN album, which always have strong themes, but usually an artist centered theme. even when about external matters. this album seems to have a disconnect between the artist and theme, yet a very strong connection to itself, if that makes any sense.
you think? i think its the music that matters most but thats just my opinion. the concept is of course important to the artist but you needn't even know there is one to enjoy this album, imo.This Message Edited On 04.09.07
i agree to some degree but to be constrained by the lyrical portion is oft times limiting. and tbh i really don't hear an overwhelming connect between the lyrics of each individual song and the concept as a whole. i was going to mention the concept a bit more, but i didn't want to stray away from the musical content or the albums overall accessibility too much. or the fact that you can enjoy the album without having to digest an entire storyline, myself preferring to take a less literal approach. i'm sure one reviewer or another will come along and get more involved with it, though.
also if Trent expands on this with a DVD or movie or some video projects i'm sure his vision will become clearer. as it is i simply enjoy the album and found what value in it that i could.This Message Edited On 04.09.07
Yes, however to truly understand the album you have to realize that it entirely revolves around the concept. You cant truly understand the album without relating it to the lyrical portion of it.
But to truly enjoy it is to like the musical portion, thus what drives it. Sure, to enjoy it to its fullest extent is to understand it, but why would you bother understanding it if you don't like the musical portion?This Message Edited On 04.09.07
You shouldnt be constrained by it, but considering that Trent himself seems to be pushing the concept as much as the album, it should receive at least a good amount of it. All of the sites he has released have explained the concept as well.
I just think to effectively review the album, you have to address the story Trent has constructed here.
Edit: You wouldnt bother with the lyrics if you didnt like the music. How does that mean it shouldnt be addressed?This Message Edited On 04.09.07
well i do think i addressed the fact that Trent has grasped onto something that is outside himself which has inspired him to reach beyond his own imagination and in my conclusion i do address the concept, yet the music is so strong, the performances so good, and whatever the inspiration works so well i didn't feel the need to telll the story. i'll let Trent do that. i'm reviewing the album. he can be singing about apples, oranges, or a deaf, dumb and blind boy. i'd rather take what I want from it and leave the rest. if anyone thinks the album is any the better for the story behind it i guess thats ok. but i like it just on its face, tbqh. This Message Edited On 04.09.07
I didn't say it shouldn't be addressed. I believe the review should have touched upon the concept and lyrics more, I just jumped in to point out that a concept isn't necessarily the most important part of an album. To understand the album is to relate to the lyrics, yes, but I wouldn't bother at all if I didn't like the music to begin with.
/edit oh was that at me or jxd? cause my comment still stands, k.
/edit2 well said, jxd.This Message Edited On 04.09.07
i was going to give the lyrics and concept a paragraph but felt the review would have been too long and off the point of the album, which concept album or not is still very much a musical piece. i mean i could have easily touched on the "story", quoted some lyrics, blah blah blah, but didn't want the review to fall into pretension. if you want to know the story go to Trent's website and tie it all up. but you won't like the album any more or less for it.
EDIT. nah trust i'm just going round and round posting my thoughts This Message Edited On 04.09.07
Good review. I've never heard an entire NIN album or song but one of my closest friends is a huge Reznor fan so I've been hyping it to him because he doesn't follow music closely until he hears about it on the radio or in the news, and he's pretty geeked for it, so I might as well check it out.
The only criticism I have for you is that if you're going to use "its" and "it's" in reviews, that you are using the correct form. In a similar vein, same goes for your apostrophes to show possession (ex: ... we can not only enjoy upon several listening's but one that will grow... [you don't need the apostrophe in 'listenings'). I definitely understand that writing without grammar or syntax is popular on the forums (I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of this) but I do feel that as a staff writer you should focus on not being as/so sloppy because I think it makes you (or anybody else who's habitually guilty of making these mistakes) look like a poor writer (but not necessarily a bad reviewer, it's just my opinion that it de-values the worth of the review to a reader).
But nonetheless a good review despite those minor things; duly pos'd, but again, please be conscientious of your writing.
EDIT: by all means have fun and thanks for reviewing an upcoming release, but I do strongly feel that having fun doesn't come at a cost of writing without these easily-fixable errors.This Message Edited On 04.09.07
i agree that the music here is the most important aspect, especially for the site. But all things revolving around it play a huge part of what Year Zero is, and I think you should have at least mentioned it a little more detailed.
thanks for the criticisms pro and con, dudes. and jom i have long thought of using you to proof read and correct things like you mentioned but really don't want to bother. the "it" and "its" thing, meh... i dunno? and i do use a casual style when writing, yes. also the "listening's" things i will change as i had a feeling about that but the stupid FF spell checker told me different. i'm out of school almost six years now and you would think this stuff sticks with you, but sometimes it just slides by or i simply just go about not worrying about it. however i think i have improved with it overall. i may go back to school early next year. when its in my face several hours a day i'm sure that will refresh my memory.This Message Edited On 04.09.07
[quote=JXD]which concept album or not is still very much a musical piece[/quote]
Trent has expressly stated that the album is more of a soundtrack ot a movie that hasn't been made. Thus, the concept is just as, if not more, important than the music itself, as the music is mere accompaniment to the storyline.
I'm just saying, I personally think with an album like this as much attention should be paid to the concept as the music itself.This Message Edited On 04.09.07