It was Tuesday morning of April 17 and I was pacing around outside
of Borders in the Maui Marketplace waiting for an apparently late
manager to let me inside. It was about three minutes past nine, and I
was getting impatient.
Borders was the only place on the island that I knew for sure was getting the new Nine Inch Nails album, Year Zero,
on the release date. I had stopped by the store a few days earlier, on
Saturday, to check. Some guy in a faded Grateful Dead t-shirt typed it
in on the computer and assured me they were going to be receiving 40
copies on Tuesday.
So there I was, standing in front of the dark store checking my
watch with about half a dozen old ladies. Finally a manager arrived and
let us in. I rushed over to the music section, found the row of newly
sorted and freshly sealed NIN albums glistening in the fluorescent
I picked it up, studied it. “16 Noisy New Songs” the sticker on the
front promised. I smiled to myself and headed up to the counter.
So after work, after the sun went down, I carefully loaded Year Zero into my Alpine deck, turned the knob as far as the JBL’s would allow without distorting and pointed the car west on Highway 30.
Within 12 seconds I knew the CD was good. The steady drum-heavy beat
of the intro track, “HYPERPOWER!” wasted no time in setting the
tone for what was to come, and I quickly realized the all-caps and
exclamation point were there for a reason. The sound kept building and
building as one layer was added after another, and I sat there,
waiting, waiting… gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter… then
suddenly I heard what seemed to be machine gun fire… people
screaming—was that the sound of bombs dropping??—Jesus Christ, it was
intense, and I began to wonder if I was gonna rip the steering wheel
off the column. Then, just like that, the track faded out after just a
minute and a half, and new drumbeat set in. Before I could question the
abrupt transition a calm and collected Trent Reznor cuts it and says:
“Down on your knees you’ll be left behind, this is the beginning…” and
I had no choice but to nod along to the beat. “You wait your turn
you’ll be last in line… this is the beginning… get out of the way cuz
I’m getting mine, this is the beginning…”
Well, I know I’m getting mine, I thought. That was for sure. I was
starting to sweat with excitement. Approximately three minutes later
the tempo picked up for “Survivalism,” reminding me once again about
how Reznor is the best screamer on the planet. However, “Survivalism”
was soon overshadowed by the following track “Good Soldier,” which is
the clear-cut best song on the CD.
“Good Soldier” is very different, at least by NIN standards, but I
dug it. Everything just flows so smoothly. The way the lyrics roll
along with the music, the way it rhymes. It’s mellow. It’s groovy.
Trent isn’t screaming but instead just quietly singing, “How can this
be real? I can barely feel… anymore…” It all syncs up so perfectly. I
The other track that really stood out was “Capital G,” which has
these brief dramatic pauses that seem to heighten everything about the
song. Very edgy, very cool.
Overall, my impression throughout the first listen of the album was
that the tracks were all their own separate entity. They didn’t really
seem to flow from one to the next as the songs did in, say, The Fragile or Downward Spiral.
But after the second and third time around, I could hear the
progression from one track to the next. There was definitely a central
driving force, a point. The album has a very militant feel to it, the
way the words rattle off along with the ever-present drumbeat—at times
I wasn’t sure if I should be jumping around wildly in a mosh pit or
marching around formally in some sort of a protest rally. On the whole,
Year Zero sounds like a cross between With Teeth and Pretty Hate Machine, if I had to compare it to something.
But ultimately what’s important is that Year Zero delivered as promised: 16 Noisy New Songs… hey, I couldn’t be happier. MTW