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Year Zero: The Beginning of the End

Well, I finally have my copy of the new Nine Inch Nails disc "Year Zero." It is fabulous. I am even willing to say it's better than the last disc "With Teeth," although I like that one, too. I am pleased to see Trent return to the "concept album" he does so well. This one is kind of 1984-ish in nature, and while that is not entirely a "novel" concept, Trent has put his unique stamp upon it and made it fresh.

I am so thrilled about the sound of the album. Sounds that hearken back to the "Downward Spiral" era have returned, and while they could have made the album sound old and rehashed, it instead made it sound brilliant. What I love so much about "Year Zero" thus far is the way that each listen, I can hear something "new," which is one reason I love the much put-down "Fragile" for. Sure, this album will always be the same 16 tracks, but each close listen will bring out something entirely new and make it fresh. If there is one artist I know that puts out albums that continue to surprise even after multiple plays and years, it's Trent Reznor. It's a return to form, showing how talented he is.

So, besides being an 1984-ish storyline, WHAT is "Year Zero" about? Unlike the "Downward Spiral," the story about a man's descent into insanity starting with "Mr. Self Destruct," and ending with "The Downward Spiral," and the "end note after death" of "Hurt" (Yes the song that Johnny Cash covered, Trent wrote it/recorded it first, thank-you, and also about heroin addiction) this album is set fifteen years in the future, America in 2022 essentially, where we are under a fascist state that routinely drugs its citizens and ala-Nazis shoots people. The album tells a story, from beginning to end, of this rise starting with "Hyperpower!" and culminating in the guilt ridden, sorrowful song "Zero Sum."

It is no question that, while Trent has it set in the future, that his target is the current administration. "Capital G" is pretty blatant about who it is talking about, considering the opening lyrics of "I pushed a button and elected him to office and a/He pushed a button and it dropped a bomb." Trent had been, roughly up until 2004, ambiguous about his politics, but with messages on his TR section of nin.com and  "The Hand that Feeds" on "With Teeth"  in 2005 exposed his politics to be particularly left, which is what it is, take it or leave it. It is his contribution to the ongoing discussion occurring in the country at the moment, and as with most strong statements, either you'll hate it or love it. I think you can all guess where I land on it!

The oddest thing about this record, however, is the web campaign Trent orchestrated to bring this album to the fans. Titled "Art Is Resistance: You Have a Voice," a whole slew of clues left on various websites lead to other tidbits and clues to unravel the mystery that is "Year Zero." It essentially makes the album interactive, not just a static piece of music sold in stores and toured around like most albums are. That will come, too, but Trent has thrown in a whole new concept to releasing albums on a magnitude that no other artist has ever attempted. And given the nature of the general Nine Inch Nails fan, you can bet that the lot of us spent hours scouring anything and everything for clues. And just think some fan discovered this whole puzzle by questioning a new NIN t-shirt! I, myself, have not had the time to partake in the big "AIR" game, but I have been roughly following it on the NIN Hotline, one of my favorite all time sites in what NIN fans call the "NINternet." Hell, Trent even went so far as to leak three tracks from "Year Zero" himself, by leaving three USB drives in bathrooms in Europe at various NIN concerts. "Me, I'm Not," "Survivalism," and "In This Twilight," to be exact. From what I understand, the RIAA was none to pleased by it, but since it was the artist himself, I can't imagine how angry they can truly get at the fans who then put them on the internet. Besides, it wasn't long before they appeared on the NIN MySpace page anyways. (You can find Year Zero in its entirety there, although I will warn you that the sound quality is subpar compared to the actual disc).

One feature of this album that surprised me was when I bought it, was the fact that thelabel of the disc was black. I played it, took it out of the CD player to find it had turned white with a pattern of 0's and 1's in silver running across it. Let the CD cool, and it turns black again. It's heat sensitive, and I think that is such a neat thing for Trent to do. The artwork is pretty neat, too. I love the fact that I bought it at Wal-Mart (My ShopKo store didn't get "Year Zero" in yet), although Trent put on the back a warning about it being against the "U.S. Bureau of Morality," a govt agency Trent made up. Considering Wal-Mart's aversion to ANY CD with a PA sticker, I found it funny. Oddly, although Trent does say "fuck" on the album a few times, some how "Year Zero" escaped it, hence being sold at Wal-Mart. And of course, to add to the puzzle, Trent put a phone number, when called leads to more clues to unlocking the mystery. It's all very intriguing, and once the dust settles, I bet the whole picture will emerge. I'll let the rest of the NINternet handle it for me, cause, umm, I don't have time to dally on that kind of thing.

The lyrics are sharp, crisp, and catchy. As dark as the album is, it often makes you sing along, dance, and just have fun. It connects to the debut NIN album "Pretty Hate Machine," in that manner, because that album was one of the first, if not the first, industrial album that had catchy hooks and choruses like a typical pop-song. "Year Zero" keeps with Trent's ability to produce such industrial songs, yet make them instantly catchy, and dare I say it, hummable! That doesn't mean there aren't aspects of it that might dissuade some listeners, but once Trent has you hooked, there is pretty much no going back. There is even an instrumental piano piece "Another Version of the Truth," which is beautiful and soft on a harsh themed record, signaling the denouement of the album. And for me, there is almost that teaser of hope that Trent often puts into his records, under all of the anger, darkness, and sorrow.

Songs like "God Given" are just fun all around, because of the "sing along/everybody now" then the shouted "God Given" in the chorus. It's like a glimpse into Trent's sense of humor, which I find to be rather entertaining, even though others might find it rather dry and obscure. What can I say, I like that kind of thing! I always have. Trent says about the album as a whole: "You can think about it and it will reveal more than you were expecting. You can dance to a lot of it. You can fuck to a lot of it (maybe all of it depending on what you're into)." See what I mean about humor?

Despite some of the concerns about the methods Trent uses (electronics in particular) to record albums, I see no problem for the majority of songs to make it to a live performance. Even "The Great Destroyer" with its heavy electronic "destruction" of the world would be possible and stunning live. I also think that "Zero Sum" could become another crowd favorite in the same vein as "Hurt," considering the chorus of "Shame on us/Doomed from the start/God have mercy/On our dirty little hearts/Shame on us/For all we've ever done/And all we ever were/Just zeros and ones."

Speaking of "Zero Sum," Trent has sparked my muse, as he often does, again. I have an Inuyasha/Kikyo themed duet centering around the song in development. I am not certain when I will have it completed, but we shall see! I do have a few stories in the queue already, but it depends on how badly it wants/needs to be written, I suppose.

All in all, even if you've never listened to a NIN record in your life, this one is a good one to get. If you're a bit gun shy of NIN for the harshness, abrasive, loud music, start with the softer side of Trent. Find songs like "La Mer," "The Great Below," "A Warm Place," "The Frail," "And All That Could Have Been," "Leaving Hope," the Still version of "The Fragile," and "Adrift and At Peace." If you really want to sink your teeth into NIN (pun intended on With Teeth), try the Broken EP in its entirety for classics like "Gave Up," "Wish," and "Happiness In Slavery." You just might be surprised by what you hear! And hey, Trent's already said he's got a follow up for "Year Zero" due next year. Considering the five year gap pattern of the past, this is a nice, refreshing change!

One final note, as my friend says, "Depeche Mode is the soundtrack for Heaven. Nine Inch Nails is the soundtrack for Hell." If you're ready to travel into the depths of Hell, take the time to delve into the discography of NIN.

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I pre-ordered Sunday night on Amazon. The CD came in the mail Friday, but I didn't get to listen untill Saturday. It was worth the wait. He's angry again and it's wonderful.

I loved With Teeth, the feel was wonderful. I wasn't crazy about the lyrics and only bothered to memorize a few; I felt the rhymes were a bit trite. Not the case with Year Zero; I'm already reading lyrics and replaying songs so I can get things straight, something I haven't done since I was a teenager.

I don't have a favorite yet, but I love the sound of Capital G, primarily because it reminds me of something else, or someone, more to the point. The vocal style is very reminiscent of Marilyn Manson, particularly on The Beautiful People, but seeing as they've worked closely on occasion, it's understandable.

And yeah, some of the feel of his old stuff is there. I love his humor, though... BTW, have you seen the video for Survivalisim? Awesome, really. The message is quite clear.

Anyway, I'm glad to see someone else excited about this! I've been a fan more than half my life and I'm always looking forward to his next release.

Live Journal must not be notifying me of things again or something. I didn't think anyone cared about my little review of Year Zero. Poor Trent!

I stopped dancing and whatnot the first few bars of Capital G that first time. That "familiar" feeling is actually Michael Jackson-ish, ala "The Way You Make Me Feel," or at least that's what first popped into my head. I was like "WTF," then the lyrics started and it was all good.

Funny that you mention Manson. Many in the NIN community feel that without El Rezzo, Manson would still be Brian Warner and a nobody with a drum machine. I don't know if that's true, but he certainly does owe a good deal to Trent! It's a pity the man has no power in his voice when he performs. I have the bootlegs to prove it. Him and Trent do a duet on Starfuckers in the Garden during the Fragility tour, Trent's CLEAR as a bell, Manson's very faint. It's kinda disappointing, but that's just how it is, I guess.

I love With Teeth for certain songs, but compared to Year Zero, it's not as good. I particularly love the song Sunspots on With Teeth. The feel, the mood, everything. It's one of my fave NIN tracks. I wish he would have performed it at one of my concerts. I'm still a Fragile Freak, though! Of all the studio NIN CDs I have, I return to that one the most.

As for Year Zero, I keep returning to God Given, Zero Sum, and The Warning. It's just so exciting to have a new NIN album that surprises you each time you listen again. With Teeth had a few moments on it like that, but it wasn't as detailed or layered as this one is.

The Fragile has to be one of my favorites, honestly. I'm Looking Forward to Joining You Finally, Even Deeper, La Mer and The Great Below are pretty much standards on my playlist.

From With Teeth, I'm actually really fond of Only, though my husband makes fun of it. He calls it the "happy Trent" song because the beat is reminiscent of a disco beat. Oh, and it looks like Trent is trying to dance in the video; he found that amusing. He also calls Trent "the little black rain cloud". Sunspots is another standard on my playlists. (the things get to be 7 and 8 hours long, so there is a variety... kinda.)

So far on Year Zero, I'm drawn to The Good Soldier, Vessel, In This Twilight and My Violent Heart. I love the line "You cannot stop us all...". I think, though, that The Greater Good will be good background music for writing and reading. The lyrics aren't loud enough to draw my attention, but if I feel like it, I can listen for them.

I'm not big on live albums, but I love bootlegs, obviously. :-D I've heard Manson (as Brian Warner, of course) play on some of the older NIN stuff, but I've never heard him actually SING with Trent. It's too bad he was hard to hear on the bootleg. It was so strange to recognize him in the video for Gave Up on the Closure VHS, knowing that when the video was made, he wasn't Marilyn Manson yet.

BTW, who else do you listen to?

I'm kind of a strange music fan. My three favorite bands are as follows: The Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode. My mother is just confounded that I know so many artists and so many songs/albums dating back to the dawn of rock and roll.

I actually remember the Head Like A Hole video when it was new (I have a catalogue in my head of various MTV videos from the 80s-mid 90s) and I have to say, at the time, I didn't care much for it. I was aware of NIN, and come to think of it, I remember Down In It, too, but I didn't pay close attention. When I was 12, I saw my first concert, the Rolling Stones. I'm kinda the walking/talking encyclopedia on Stones history, specializing in the 60s and 70s especially, although I am pretty strong in the 80s and 90s through present, too. Name a Stone, I probably can tell you their birth town in England, the year, the day and month, and how tall they are now. If you're curious, both Mick and Keith are 5'11" and born in the same town of Dartford, Kent England, and that's only off the top of my head.

I also know quite a bit of the history of the bands around at the time, because it's impossible to study the Stones without finding out about their contemporaries, particularly the Beatles. Paul McCartney grates on my nerves, so I'm not a huge Beatles fan, but I do know enough to get by in any discussion. I blame it on my mother. She shouldn't be surprised. She sat me down when I was four and told me which band was which, and well, I ran with the Stones. I currently have just about every studio album in one format (I'm a format collector, record, cassette, CD), and I can pretty much tell you track lists from memory.

How then, did I become a NIN fan, then? Before college, I was surfing the internet and whatnot, and an Amazon page came up with some NIN CDs on it. I don't even remember what I was looking for. I was intrigued by Trent's picture, clicked, and looked through the track list. Incidentily it was the Fragile that hooked me. I didn't care much for this punching me in the face routine with the harder stuff at first. Then I heard the Frail and La Mer and I was like "huh..this dude isn't just screaming at me after all. Wonder what he's all about." From there, I just kept going down the rabbit hole. My bootleg dealer got me addicted to Depeche Mode, and the Stones, NIN, and DM have been my trifecta ever since.

Trent's the rain cloud, eh? My bootleg dealer swears it has to be Courtney Love, but then she HATES Courtney, so don't got there. I actually have to agree with you on My Violent Heart. Everyone will say "Oh, NIN, depressing," but it's for those lyrics like "You can't stop us all" that show the hope. It's buried, but it's THERE.

I loved Only, too. It's catchy, and fun, but it's got that darkness I like, too. I think it's one reason I love God Given, too. I so hope he makes a video for that one.

Yeah, that NIN boot is the 2000 Madison Square Garden one. They sing Starfuckers and then Manson solos with Beautiful People. You can BARELY hear him, but Trent? He nearly blows you outta the room with his voice. I was kinda disappointed by Manson simply because of that. I haven't seen him live myself, so I don't know if it carries that way in person, but the video didn't make it sound good. I think it's also on And All That Could Have Been DVD in one of those hidden easter egg things. You can hear him better, but he's still not strong.

Funny you mention the Gave Up video. That, by far, is one of my FAVE NIN vids. Trent losing it in the middle of everyone else pretty much acting normal while recording is classic. The expression he has on his face, his frantic behavior, everything just WORKS.

So how about you? Who else is on the ol' playlist besides the Rezmeister?

My father is a Beatles aficionado, knows a story to go with every song, so I know nearly all of them by heart, but I'm honestly not a big fan myself.

My big three are NIN, Better Than Ezra and A Perfect Circle, though Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco and Fiona Apple make appearances quite often.

Head Like a Hole was my intro to NIN in 1990, while in a van with my girl scout troop, believe it or not. I listened on and off until The Downward Spiral when I was in my "goth/sadgirl" stage. Then I fell in love with the sound and the image. When the Fragile came out, I listened non-stop for nearly 2 months.

I heard In The Blood by BTE in 1994 and fell in love with Kevin Griffin's voice. There is just this... wonderful something there, a quality I can't quite describe. Doesn't hurt that the lyrics can get downright creepy, for all the pop song sound. "Well I wish I could kill you/savor the sight..." from Porcelin. Or the wonderful "Last thing I remember was her face/as I put her in the shallow grave" from Hold me Down. The sound is so light and his voice is so sweet that unless you really listen, you don't realize you're listening to something dark and creepy. My AU, The Killer Inside, was inspired by the mental images from the song: a girl running through a dilapidated mansion trying to escape a killer, then sitting behind a door sobbing, terrified out of her mind.

As for A Perfect Circle... I liked Tool, the sound is different and very hard. But I heard Judith and was really drawn to the different, but still similar sound. A Stranger is probably my favorite, right now; the calm beauty of it and the lyrics really pull me. I've seen Tool in concert once, just this past summer and I hope to some day see A Perfect Circle too.

Tori, Ani and Fiona both inspire and grate on my nerves. Tori's Girl inspired me to speak up a bit more. Ani's song Joyful Girl inspired me to hide a bit less. Fiona's Extraordinary Machine inspires me to keep at it.

As for the other 6 hours of my playlists... I like Snow Patrol right now, as well as Keane, Morphine, a few songs from Cowboy Bebop, Type-O Negative, Finger Eleven, AFI, Joni Mitchell, The Cure, Joy Division, Peter Murphy... I think I put the Type-O there just to annoy hubby. He listens to GWAR without headphones though, so I'm entitled.

And if you've never heard of Morphine, they're an acquired taste. Mark Sandman, the frontman, died in '99 (heart attack, onstage, in Rome), so everything is old but I like about 90% of what I've gotten to hear.

Who all have you gotten to see in Concert?

I've seen the Stones three times, NIN three times, Page and Plant (which should count as Led Zeppelin since they played Zeppelin II in its entirety), Aerosmith, and Filter/Nonpoint/Sevendust(It was a festival). I would love to see Depeche Mode and Tool. Tool's coming to the Xcel Energy Center, but it's more expensive to see them than it is to see the Stones, and they're not cheap.

My bootleg dealer has selected "experts" for certain bands, and one is a Tool freak. You can guess what expert I am! I have so few Stones bootlegs, but I do have a few, and a book that has everything on record through '92. She's always looking for new people, especially those in need for a Trent fix. She loves to call her place "Trent Central."

I have to say, I haven't heard of Morphine, but I can imagine by the name that it's gotta be an acquired taste. Trent actually had one of the best opening acts when I saw NIN in NY. The Dresden Dolls are phenomenal, and I'd love to see them live again, as the main act. They were bizarre when they first walked out, looking just like mimes, but then Amanda started to sing and it didn't matter.

I had a chance to see Better Than Ezra when they buzzed through my podunk town for a college performance, but I couldn't afford tickets and had something to do that prevented me.

I don't have one of the fancy smancy devices that play a bazillion songs, so I tend to have to play an old fashioned CD or record. Regardless of Year Zero lately, I usually return to the Fragile, DM's Violator, Music for the Masses, and Playing the Angel. It depends on what I'm writing at the moment, but yeah. For the Stones, I usually go with Beggars Banquet or whatever era I'm feeling at the moment.

Sometimes, to change it up, I'll play Tori Amos, too, but I need to buy more of her records. I also love Sarah McLachlan.

I'll have to check into The Blood, just to see what it's all about. I'm not afraid to try new stuff. I just happen to live in an absolute radio vacuum with nothing but the Top 40 and rap.

BTW, I was just listening to Pretty Hate Machine and realizing... he sounds YOUNG... I mean, I know he was younger then, it was recorded 18 years ago. But take a listen. It's kinda strange to realize the songs are nearly 20 years old and to hear the difference, slight as it is, in just his voice.

I'm so used to hearing the sound of a voice being younger or older depending on discography. Mick Jagger has dropped at least four octaves since 1964. He can still do the falsetto bit better than just about anyone singing today, but his voice is deeeeeeeep. Paint It, Black in 66 is a lot different than Paint It, Black live today.

Trent's voice has done the same in so many regards. It's a bit deeper on Year Zero than it is on PHM. The thing that's great about PHM, though, is that when you listen to it, it could come out today brand new and demolish the charts. It hasn't aged very much in terms of sounds and whatnot. It's durability is what makes it stand up. Everyone cites the Downward Spiral, which is great, but I think PHM has stood up far longer and far better.

I had noticed the same thing with a few other artists, but it made me wonder tonight how my own voice has changed over the years. I used to sing competitively in High School but I don't have any recordings of my voice from then. I think the reason the change in octaves in Trent's voice really hit me was because I heard my voice recorded today while playing with my new phone with MC (the older of the girls I nanny). It's something I haven't heard in a while, years actually.

Trent's voice started to get a bit more character in the Downward Spiral era especially. It's when he really developed that patent snarl and that slither in your ears. It's probably why I'm addicted to listening to NIN, and then of course, I heard his talking voice and well, that was it. He's got a rather pleasant voice to listen to. It's soft, resonant, and rich. And his laugh, while understated, isn't too bad either. It's too bad he doesn't do much of laughing or smiling, cause it's like looking at a different man when he smiles. I do have some obscure, little known files on the harddrive some place of some bloopers from various spots where he had to read or whatever for some TV spot. My favorite has to be when he has to say "I'm Trent Reznor and you're watching MTV" or something along those lines, and he couldn't stop laughing and was like "I can't even say my name right." He was like "Trent, Trent..." then he makes this goofy face like, hmmm, still sounds wrong. If I knew how to put those some place online or how to share those, I'd send it to you. It's very funny.

BTW, I agree that PHM could do just as well today as it did in '90. Hell, I still hear Head Like a Hole on the radio alongside things like.. Crap.. I can't remember who else KTCL plays other than The Fray and the Zombies Ate My Neighbor guys(single file)... Audioslave... Tool... Angels and Airwaves (blech!)


until tomorrow....

The only time I've EVER heard NIN on the radio is when I visit bigger cities near by. I heard Survivalism on the radio on the way to Sioux Falls, but will never hear it on the radio here in my town. And I'll never hear any of the other NIN songs either. It's not cool, but it's the way it is!

And yeah, I think PHM would totally blow most of what's on the radio outta the water today. I will be curious to see how Year Zero is received commercially, although that won't change my feelings whatever way it sells.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, yes, I've seen Surivivalism. It's very unique and good.

Speaking of his humor, though, I read the funniest answer he's probably ever given to a question.

Interviewer: Describe yourself in four words.

Trent: Oh for fuck's sake. That's my four words.

That's classic. The best answer for that DUMB question.

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