CD Review of Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails

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Year Zero
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Interscope
Released: 2007
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When “Survivalism”, the lead single from Year Zero, was released last month, I had mixed reactions. I was glad to hear that Mr. Reznor was decreasing his timeline between records but didn’t really like the song all that much. He has spent a lot of time in between discs; Pretty Hate Machine was released in 1989, The Downward Spiral followed in 1994, The Fragile came out in 1999, and a live album was released in 2002 before 2005’s With Teeth. Inspired by current events and the administration, Mr. Gloom & Doom turned his self-loathing microscope onto his world view and has unleashed an excellent concept record in Year Zero. Lyrically, it really doesn’t matter what he is saying because musically, as an over 60-minute piece, this is a very pleasing record. Despite distortion of keyboards, guitars and drums, this disc has plenty of hooks.

The lead single should have been “The Good Soldier,” which describes the chaos and disillusion of war within the framework of a fantastic dance track. “Soldier” is sparse, isolating a great bass line and accenting it with a simple but funky drum track. Reznor’s voice, which doesn’t have the power of Rob Halford or the range of Freddie Mercury is all about delivering the perfect amount of intensity. He is not a great singer, but for the material he produces, he delivers the goods. He sings as if he is ever so close to the edge of insanity and at any moment his restraint could explode. You probably can guess who the target of his disdain and condescending tone is in “Capital G,” which is absolutely industrial dance music at its best.

Reznor constructs the record in that the danceable moments are mixed perfectly within the other material which evokes paranoia and dread. “The Greater Good” is a laid back funky track with under-mixed whispering and unsettling vocals that barely float to the surface. “Survivalism” is not a single by any measure, but within the context of the record, fits nicely as a musical contrast to songs like the “Soldier” and “Good.” “The Great Destroyer” features some lovely vocal harmonies followed immediately by some disruptive distorted artificial percussion. “Another Version of the Truth” begins with a white noise hum over a piano which continues until the buzz is removed and all that remains is a low key piano instrumental. “In This Twilight” may be the best singing he has ever put to tape. If you listen close enough, there just might be a hint of optimism in the track. 3:34 seconds of Reznor optimism is about all I can take.

“Zero-Sum” concludes the record. Reznor sums up his feelings on the war in the following manner:


shame on us
doomed from the start
may god have mercy
on our dirty little hearts
shame on us
for all we’ve done
and all we were
just zeros and ones

~R. David Smola