Review Summary: For the first time in his long and illustrious career, Reznor cares more about spectacle than cohesion.
All one needs to do is observe the cover art of Year Zero to discover exactly what it's going to be like- lots of action-packed insignia (the apocalyptic concept, the mock warning on the back of the box, the photo of the naked arm with the machine gun), religious references (the suited arm with the bible, that weird hand thingy in the sky on the cover), and the impression you get that it's going to be a mostly political disc with sprinklings of apocalyptic references. It's really cool, isn't it? I was only 15 when this album came out and having listened to NIN lots, I was expecting something huge. In a way, I compare it to Michael Bay's Transformers
movie. It's grand, big, and epic- but only in spectacle, and in terms of substance, totally lacking. Which was exactly how I felt when I listened to it the first time.
is honestly just a mess. It's pretty to look at and listen to, but it's a gigantic mess. There's no cohesion to the album; most of it seems to follow a formula of: Track A is Some catchy beat that goes nowhere with some dramatic lyrics, Track B is some anti-bush song, Track C has some soft piano and singing before the rest is just all noise. Rinse, repeat. Very few songs stand out, and it makes the album a real chore to listen to. To be fair, past NIN releases are a real chore to listen to, but they're rewarding in the end. Sadly, this album makes you feel like you've just gotten home from the airport after a 12 hour plane ride; you're exhausted by the end and happy it's over. I'm not sure exactly what was going through Trent's head when he penned the songs, but rather "let's recycle half of my previous catalogue and make the rest of the album repeated three chords over and over, whether Charlie really likes it or not, with ranty lyrics about George Bush and God!". It's kind of as if he decided to jump on the political bandwagon only because several other artists were doing it at the time, and it shows.
The biggest problem is the lyrics. As I've stated above, the lyrics are really bad, with mostly rants about Bush ("Survivalism", natch) but then there's some songs with lyrics that sound as if they were ripped straight from the worst lines of Transformers
. One particular example is in "The Great Destroyer":
I hope they cannot see
The limitless potential
Living inside of me
To murder everything
I hope they cannot see
I am the great destroyer
Any song with lyrics that remind me of dialogue from a Michael Bay movie really needs to stay as far away from my ears as possible. Trent really seems to have forgotten the songwriting that made his previous efforts enjoyable- in example, the majority of "The Downward Spiral" and even a lot of With Teeth
, "Starf---ers Inc.". None of the songs have any really notable lyrics and for Trent, this is quite a feat, and not a good one.
The music? Really quite recycled and uninspired. When not recycling older efforts ("The Good Soldier" and "Vessel" sound like weaker versions of "Closer", for one), most of the album sounds too much the same, that or songs are really just two minutes of actual music and the rest is just white noise. The average actual song length is 4 minutes and the song's are mostly verse/chorus/verse/chorus. Mind you, he did write most of the album while on tour- problem is, it shows
. After such a strong and powerful start that is "Hyperpower!", we get "Beginnjng of the End", which is a repetitive pop tune with no inspiration. I can't even begin to stomach "Capital G", which reeks much of "mainstream bait" though it does have a catchy chorus.
So is there anything to like? Well, I love "Hyperpower!", the creepy and unsettling "Me, I'm Not"- which could fit right comfortably in with much of the tracks on The Fragile
. And "Zero Sum" is one of the best tracks of the band!'s career with its bleak, cold and depressing atmosphere and its tragic lyrics. All three tracks stand out and are worth stomaching the rest of the album to hear.
Yet even still, there's really no reason to shell out hard earned dough for Year Zero
. While the apocalypse concept is welcome, sadly it seems like Trent was more focused on the concept than any musical bliss, and the end result sounds like he wrote a bunch of tracks and haphazardly grew them onto the disc. There's absolutely nothing new here and it won't bring in any new fans, old fans will either love it or sell it to a used CD store. And if you're new to NIN, don't start here, start at The Downward Spiral