By Bill Weedmark
Anyone who’s followed Nine Inch Nails should be shocked this month. Trent Reznor, notorious for only releasing two real albums per decade, is releasing his second studio album in two years on April 17, Year Zero.
In case you haven’t noticed the massive amount of mainstream coverage, Year Zero is a concept album, which envisions a war-torn, police state world 15 years in the future. The exact details of the world are detailed throughout numerous viral Web sites, all part of the Year Zero Alternate Reality Game. If you’re curious for more on that, you can check out ninwiki.com
But on to the album. While the official release date is April 17, high-quality leaks found their way to the Internet on April 3. Sometime the next day, the official Nine Inch Nails site updated with a player where you can listen to the whole thing.
While the last album, With Teeth, was a song oriented album and didn’t feel very cohesive, Year Zero feels like a complete album and not just a collection of decent songs. That alone makes it the best thing Reznor’s done since ’94’s The Downward Spiral.
The album opens with a short instrumental, “HYPERPOWER!,” which starts things off similarly to how “Pinion” opened “Broken.”
Aside from all of the songs on this album having a very consistent feel, they all share another similarity — Reznor is singing way beyond his usual style. He must have done some extensive vocal training or taken some classes, because the vocals on this album are that amazing. The lyrics still leave something to be desired, but they’re better than typical NIN fare.
If I had to sum up the sound of this album, I’d call it electronic-industrial-pop-noise-rock. Yes, I’ve coined a new genre, but it’s not fit to call this album anything else. Reznor has spent a lot of time working with hip-hop, spoken word artist Saul Williams, and I think he must have worn off a bit. There are definitely hip-hop influences to be heard on Year Zero, although it’s nowhere near being a rap album.
Style-wise, it reminds me of Pretty Hate Machine in some ways. While still having the typical complex noise that you’d expect from a NIN album, it sounds a bit less layered, and more like it was done by one man on a computer.
If you’ve never listened to NIN before, give this album a chance anyways. It’s great, from start to finish, and while I wouldn’t call it my favorite album, it’s close. Songs like “Capital G” and “Meet Your Master” are both heavy-hitting songs that could potentially be singles. “Capital G” is my personal favorite track off the album, and I imagine it’ll go on to big things — it’s the only track highlighted on the cover art, aside from the first single, “Survivalism.”
“In This Twilight” and “Zero-Sum,” the last two tracks, are the beautiful, sad, “Hurt” songs for this album, and both are extremely powerful and moving.
Actually, there’s not a single bad track on the album, although it’s admittedly not something that everyone will be able to just pick up and get into. Year Zero sounds like nothing else that’s ever been done, although it draws inspiration from a lot of places. For me, buying this album is a no-brainer.