Review Summary: The Nine Inch Nails vision of the future; bleak and cold, yet catchy and all around brilliant.
Nine Inch Nails
Interscope Records, 2007
Some decades ago, back in the roarin' 50s, people created a vision through many science fiction stories and movies of what they believed the future would be like. Most often these fantastic visions would include mechanical servants, flying cars, gorgeous metropolis', and, best of all, commie hunting robots. As the years piled on and the dawn of the 21st century approached, this vision slowly changed. Sure, some people still dreamed of a fantastical futuristic wonderland, but many others believed that the world would become a much darker, more sinister place to live. With the discovery of minor problems such as overpopulation, global warming, overflowing heaps of garbage, nuclear warfare etc... the common vision of the future slowly turned darker, with the bright metropolis' of tomorrow slowly crumbling in the imaginations of many. Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, shared a similar vision. This vision was of a world where a religious sect rules over all, and where free speech and racial tolerance are stomped down by military strength. The utter downfall of Earth as we know it will, in Trent's mind, occur in 2022, a time that will become known as Year Zero
This album is purposely designed to work as a concept album, similar to The Downward Spiral
, and contains a rather loose story line involving the apocalyptic 'year zero'. Unlike The Downward Spiral
, however, this concept does not completely bind the album, which allows for listeners to listen to certain songs separately and still enjoy the lyrics. If one does not pay mind to the basic story line supposedly found here, the album still manages to come across as a great listen, which often may not work with other concept albums of this scope. With this in mind, a casual listener may enjoy the album simply for it's music, while the more interested listener may enjoy the album, while exploring its lyrical and musical depths more deeply.
Following the rather bland affair that was With Teeth
it would appear that with Year Zero
Trent has tried a slightly different musical approach from his previous albums. Many of the loud, powerful riffs heard on prior Nine Inch Nails works have been eliminated here, which helps eliminate much of the angriness that had been attempted with older songs. The use of extremely distorted guitars and keyboards creating a 'mechanical wall of sound' effect is barely found here, with the louder sections instead delivered through complex drum and synth rhythms. With the exception of the stomping album opener 'Hyperpower!' many of the guitar riffs and passages have been eliminated here. The instrumental ambient/piano sessions that were so prevalent on The Fragile
only make one appearance here with the beautiful 'Another Version Of The Truth'. Another large change in musical style is presented through the drumming. The furious live drums of 'March Of The Pigs' and 'Head Like A Hole' have been mostly replaced by bizarre electronic beats. This change benefits the rest of the album, however, and gives everything a much more streamlined, futuristic approach.
Trent has never really been the best lyricist. Both The Fragile
and With Teeth
proved this through the overuse of angry, angst filled lyrics. Here, Trent has apparently decided to change his songwriting standpoint, with many of the songs written from a third person perspective. This generally works in his favor, and helps expand on his apocalyptic vision. Almost all of the lyrics here deal with the oppressive, evil government of the future, and how they are damaging the world. Sure, they might not be the most original or well written lyrics, but they get the job done and show Trent's progression as a songwriter.
New styles of music have been incorporated into this album alongside the altered instrumentation and lyrics. The catchiness has clearly been brought up a notch here, with such killer cuts of 'Survivalism' and 'God Given' using epic, marching choruses and quieter verses to draw the listener in. 'The Great Destoyer', another interesting, catchy track, unexpectedly changes from it's verse-chorus structure into a bizarre electronic mash-up that could only be compared to an Aphex Twin song. 'The Warning' also uses this strange change of pace to it's advantage, using an excellent speedy intro as a means to lead into a spoken word section.
One of my chief complaints with Year Zero
involves how the album is laid out. As this is a concept album, one would expect the songs to have some sort of flow with one another. Much of this flow is non-existent, especially with the latter half of the album. When the listener is jarred from one song to the next without any sort of segue or bridge, this may distract or perturb. For example, 'The Greater Good', a rather calm song, ends quietly, but then quickly leads into 'The Great Destoyer', with it's speedy electronic drum beat. This change is rather jarring, and is the cause of a general lack of flow, a problem that has not hounded previous albums.
In the end, Trent Reznor's musical vision of the future is a bleak, dark one that shows Nine Inch Nails progressing both musically and lyrically. The self-absorbed, depression-lead themes explored with past releases are minimal here, and instead the album takes a much deeper, more epic approach. The overall strength and near-brilliance of Year Zero
makes it the strongest Nine Inch Nails release since The Downward Spiral
, which is quite a feat considering the brilliance of Trent's earlier works.