Review Summary: Not the actual sequel to the Fragile we're waiting for, but it's close enough for comfort.
Of all the things I had on my shortlist for Christmas this year, I can't say an exhaustive Nine Inch Nails discography re-issue accompanied by a new EP cracked the top 10. Yet, even with the off-beige, dreary, who-invited-this-guy spectre of Hesitation Marks
just over the horizon, the promise of an impenetrable, left-field release was just too much to resist.
It was a good thing I didn't, because Not the Actual Events
is one of the greatest Nine Inch Nails releases ever. "Branches/Bones" roars out of the gate with more energy than we've heard from Trent since "You Know What You Are?". The furious drumming calls back to the days of Broken
, while the explosion into a massive chorus sounds like the dynamic songwriting of The Slip
finally taken to its rightful limits. "Dear World,"'s mumbling, ghostly spoken word recalls career highlight "My Violent Heart", but with a subdued chorus in place of that song's eruption. "The Idea of You" occupies a halfway point between the savage rock and talking vocals of the first two songs, finishing up as the most moshable Nine Inch Nails track since "Wish". Easily the high point is "She's Gone Away", which ventures far from anything Trent has attempted before; my best estimation would be that it sounds like a Pearl Jam ballad remixed for the Underworld
soundtrack. While the rest of the EP largely leaves Trent in the background suffocating in a sea of noise (a godsend for those longtime listeners who've never been impressed with his lyrics), "She's Gone Away" has him front and centre, hypnotically repeating the chorus line like some digital-age grungey shaman.
There was a time I would swear that without either the rocket fuelled-anger of his early work or the extensive concepts of With Teeth
and Year Zero
, there was no Nine Inch Nails; just some dude tinkering with his synthesiser with no direction or the purpose. I may have been a little harsh, but I don't think that's necessarily false even now; somewhere along the line, Trent Reznor's fury just got buried in meandering electronics and bloated album runtimes. But there's been a tiny, angsty coal burning somewhere inside that whole time; with jet-black hair, a drug problem and a bunch of Depeche Mode CDs. Not the Actual Events
is the sound of Trent digging that coal up, fanning it into a flame and then letting it go to town on every-***ing-thing you've ever loved.