Nine Inch Nails
Remember back when Trent Reznor made some big announcement about dropping out of the reindeer game of labels and pledged to go it alone? It came off like he was aping Prince who had recently done the same thing for the first or second time, but then in many ways Trent Reznor is always aping Prince: hermetic studio methods, persistence of interest that increasingly exceeds its value, continuation of a vibe that was groundbreaking two decades ago, etc etc. I could go on. Trent Reznor is partially awesome in the same way Prince is totally awesome - I don't like their music much anymore, but it pleases me greatly that they still come out of the cryo-chamber every couple years and do it again. Maybe NIN will get a Super Bowl gig, too?
It proves that Reznor has effectively destroyed the pretty hate machine in that I heard about this new album of his not through Pitchfork, not from a publicist's email but in a post on a local message board from a guy that manages an 80s cover band. I wish all my information came through such channels, because it is information rooted in love, perhaps a cartoonish, goth-lingering, faux-hateful, anachronistic kind of love, but love nonetheless.
The album is available for free download but my download was corrupt (a fact which, if I was nineteen, I could find great meaning in) so I'm letting the stream of Rez pour over me. It's a rather lovely soundtrack-y affair, opening with the vibraphone minimal vamp "21 Ghosts III" - evidently the future will sound like Stereolab form the 90s, which sounds like Steve Reich from the 70s. It has a sweet exotica flavor to it, the throb of the jeep beats rattling through his crystalline jungle. "15 Ghosts I" ushers our vibraphonist into a darker part of the wood, with tribal drums. All this humid leafy ambience is cut with some crowd noise samples, like Paul "19" Hardcastle was producing a Les Baxter tribute. I kinda like this new Nine Inch Nails - it sounds a little clever, inventive, subtle even. The façade starts to slip on the piano-dominated "10 Ghosts II" as we guide our canoe into for industrialized waters, but its still interesting.
The shit starts to get a little more traditionally Reznor on "10 Ghosts II" - the percussion array is all time-fucked "People are People" Depeche Mode style and the periphery is slowly invaded by some fat keyboard racket but still it seems like the work of a stubborn man whose made a change. Then "1 Ghosts I" issues forth on melancholy piano keys and I wait for that gooey dancefloor bass to come in and ruin it for me, but it never does. I have to wait for the next track, "24 Ghosts III" for that to happen. I am picturing milf-y housewives in variations of Kate Beckinsale in Underworld garb, doing some mix of Tae Bo and butterfly knife play to this song. You could evoke worse images.
It is at "3 Ghosts I" that it dawns on me that there are more than four tracks here, and I have a fear that this is going to go on forever, endless kaleidoscopes of flatulent synth bass and jungle riddims. If I were Trent Reznor, I'd probably sit in my studio, crank out endless variations of what I've always done and send them forth on the web, extending myself. Now, I would probably think, "what about a banjo" and add that in, but it surprised me when he does that very thing on "28 Ghosts IV" over the anthemic synth section and that vibraphone again. He's a mad scientist trying to create Wilco in the laboratory! Perhaps he partially succeeds, because the following track "13 Ghosts II" is a saccharine but compelling piano figure with not much else.
At this point I'm ready to commit to this album playing forever and ever; a post-rivet muzack as good as any Beatlesque alt-rockers trying his hand at orchestration. Why isn't Reznor doing soundtracks? Is it because the only industry more corrupt than the music industry is the movies? All these questions and now I notice the "info" button on the flash player and it says this thing is 36-tracks, 2 hours in length and fittingly, as I read it, "31 Ghosts IV" rattles in bog-standard Pretty Hate Machine style with a Buckethead-grade geetar (it's actually Adrian Belew) solo over it breaking the spell, and I'm out. It also says that the album is available as a free download of Ghost I and a five-dollar download of Ghosts I-IV. I'm not a convert, I have my appetite sated for what R-money has been up to, and am reluctant to go further, but unlike the 10,000 album steams that clog my inbox every day, this was the one that took up the last hour of my life, proving the old boy has still got whatever it was that he's always had. When Mel Gibson follows suit with every other dinosaur and chooses to further the Mad Max franchise, I have a seasoned composer in mind that would be perfect for the project.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com