Reevaluating NINE INCH NAILS – Part 7: Year Zero

Nine Inch Nails’ fifth album, Year Zero, was released on April 17, 2007. It reached number two on the Billboard 200 chart, and sold over 187,000 copies on its week of release.

Trunt decides to open the album with a fuzzed-out one-note groove on the instrumental “Hyperpower!” While it builds to a reasonable crescendo of chaos, I can’t help but feel as though this track was intended to get people pumped up, and it leaves me feeling underwhelmed. It sounds more like an improvised warm-up jam than a carefully composed introduction to an album. Even the squalling “lead guitar” and nightmare sonics seem a little half-baked.

The Beginning of the End
I suppose that this song is fine. It’s a fairly straight-ahead rock n’ roll song, even more so than the previous album’s primary single, “The Hand That Feeds”. A hook certainly exists in here, but a rather dull hook. The noisy “solo” section is far and away the most invigorating section of the track, but is not enough to shake the underwhelming feeling that I’m getting.

I will concede that it does land near the beginning of the album, and therefore it is an appropriate song title.

This song sounds like a pale and goofy shadow of the menacing glory that Nine Inch Nails reached with “Wish” on the Broken EP. It features the same kind of “sing a thing, then a riff, sing a thing, then a riff” shtick as that song, but none of the intensity. It’s kind of dorky, to be honest. Good fuzz effects featured in the atmospheric audio, but kind of a derivative stinker in my book.

The Good Soldier
“The Good Soldier” manages to be a more successful attempt at a playful, hooky vibe that the previous tracks, and sports a vintage Nine Inch Nails-ian outro that works very well. Great sounds. I don’t think that this is anything stellar, but it is more to my taste than anything I’ve heard so far.

There are some fairly embarrassing vocal work on this album, and the “Oh. Mah. Gawd.” chorus of “Vessal” exemplifies it. That being said, this track has a lurching quality that reaches out to me, and the squalling outro is actually quite inspired. This album is at its best when it sounds like a smart cross between tropes that would later become dubstep and… a dial-up modem.

Me, I’m Not
Yet another track based around the rhythmic repetition of one note. This can be brilliantly effective, but when it doesn’t work, the song feels hopelessly without melody. This track drags and relies on an underwhelming vocal performance to generate interest. I’m getting the impression that there’s a story being woven by this album, but I’m not feeling drawn in at all. This is the fourth song that has only seemed interesting when some glitchy sound enters and sputters around for a period of time as the track winds down.

Oh, yeesh. This is a long album, too. This isn’t good.

Capital G
Holy fuck, what does he think he’s achieving with this vocal approach? It is cringe-inducing.

Pretty solid hook in the chorus, and fun synth noodles abound. I feel as though I would like this song well enough if the verses didn’t make me want to light a couple of Q-tips ablaze and shove them into my ear-holes.

Nothing on this album rages, and it is bumming me out.

My Violent Heart
Classic terrible Troy Raisin spoken word poetry is featured on this track, which is a real damn shame given that the chorus is actually fairly spirited and fun. The back half of the song holds some pretty brilliant instrumental work and atmospherics, bouncing between some classic Nine Inch Nails synth stabs and something akin to… jazz?

Honestly, does anyone even enjoy the spoken word Nine Inch Nails tracks? Why does he keep on doing this? Does everyone enjoy them but me? Is it me? It’s me, isn’t it?

The Warning
Warning: Your album might be bad.

Actually, I enjoyed this one. The daffy bass line, chunky kick drum and vaguely hilarious storytelling are all kind of fun. Tell us another story about the sky-people, Papa Trent!

God Given
A rapping Trent Ruzzles is a bad Trent Ruzzles. This song sucks.

Meet Your Master
Terrific chip-tune synths and distorted bass guitar open up this track, and the chorus has more piss and vinegar than anything featured on the album thus far. It doesn’t reach the heights of the best Nine Inch Nails tracks, but there’s a solid enough chug here to make it a winner for me. The introduction of shimmering strings beneath the instrumental bridge was both unexpected and pleasing.

A good one!

The Greater Good
Fantastic sounding bass synth had my hoping that Trent wouldn’t come in with a vocal part that totally ruined the whole thing. Luckily, the vocals work primarily as atmospherics and lead to the most beguiling and compelling track on the album. “The Greater Good” is a winding hallway of a song, and would hold its own with some of the best tracks off of The Fragile.

I like it.

The Great Destroyer
For much of this song, it hews close to a style of alternative guitar rock that seems distinctly un-Trentlike. The strummed chords and melody seem conventional in a way that this act simply is not. As the song reaches its climax and Trent exclaims “I AM THE GREAT DESTROYEEEEEEERRRR” and is silenced by two minutes of farty glitch-drums, I decide that this may be the funniest Nine Inch Nails song of all time. Great punchline!

Another Version of the Truth
Thematically, this album is totally on point. America (and the world at large) has basically traveled down the nightmare rabbit hole laid out here by Trentstrodamus, albeit without any space aliens. That we know about.

The latter day NIN trend of instrumental tracks that manage to deliver a multi-layered impact beyond that of their lyrical cousins holds true here. “Another Version of the Truth” is a stunner, and is certainly one of the best tracks on this album. Terrific.

In This Twilight
Year Zero gets stronger as it goes, and “In This Twilight” reaches the moody, atmospheric heights only hinted at by the album’s early tracks, while managing an interesting and atypical melody. It is suitably haunting stuff to work, and it works well with the album’s rough narrative. Good stuff that I could see myself returning to.

Zero Sum
There are some interesting musical ideas at play here, and the spoken word segments are slightly less embarrassing than other entries in Trent’s Poetry Slam. The faux-gospel chorus may be a little much, but serves it’s function of bringing a fairly audacious concept album to its conclusion. Most concept albums avoid subtlety as a rule. Year Zero is no exception.

The piano noodles are very nice.

Trent Reznor 2007 Fashion Round-up

Here is a well-groomed Trent, sporting a very sharp leather jacket/fashion scarf combo. Very nice. It says “I read a book, but also GRRRRRRR!”

Here is an ensemble that screams “restraining order”.

The Verdict

I enjoyed this album much more by its end than I did off of the top, and perhaps I would enjoy it more were I to give it multiple listens. I do not feel compelled to do so, however, as that sounds like a lot of work and I would rather just listen to one of the other Nine Inch Nails albums that I consider to be much better.

Some terrific instrumental work peppers this album, but I’m left feeling baffled and put-off by the way that many of the vocals were approached. As someone rapidly blossoming into an “old guy”, it is difficult to listen to what sounds like an old guy trying to figure out what sounds cool without feeling deeply ashamed for them and with them.

Stick to what you know, ol’ Trendly. Stick to what you know.

This is a very shaggy album, overlong and lacking the immediacy of the best work off of With Teeth. That said, this is a concept album and works of this sort are often overstuffed just due to enthusiasm and ambition. Year Zero wraps up with a decent pile of interesting tunes, and while it won’t wind up near the top in a list of Nine Inch Nails’ output, it has its merits.


Author: markmeeks

squid goals

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