Saturday, December 26, 2009


I remember reading an interview with Trent Reznor in about 2000 where he pointed out that Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile album debuted at #1 and falling sharply from that slot the following week was viewed as a failure, but Radiohead's Kid A doing pretty much the same was seen as an artistic triumph, because such an uncompromising album reached #1. He had a point. There's been a weird bias against Trent in the past decade, I think he's often been seen as "of the '90s" and given the fact that he had his commercial peak during that decade doesn't help the perception. And, as a fan, I'll admit that his '90s albums were always different than what came before: Pretty Hate Machine (actually released in 1989, but which became one of the most influential albums of the '90s), the Broken EP (1992) and of course 1994's The Downward Spiral. I don't think the albums that he has done since then have had the same "quantum leap" vibe to them, but they have always been really great. I think rock critics are more comfortable with the likes of Radiohead (and Animal Collective, and Pavement) than a more aggressive and ambitious band like Nine Inch Nails.

The first half of the decade was not too eventful for Trent, apparently he was battling demons on a number of fronts: drugs and a former manager. But in 2005, he returned with a really underrated album, With Teeth. The leadoff track, "All The Love In The World," actually sounded like it was heralding another totally new sound, but even though that wasn't the case, the album still had some classics, especially "The Hand That Feeds," which was one of the first glimpses of the anti-Bush direction Trent soon went in. Musically, Rick Rubin helped Trent out with the album (although he wasn't the producer) and Dave Grohl contributed live drums to lots of the songs.

In 2007, Year Zero was preceeded with an alternate reality game that Trent orchestrated with a technology company... and without the help of his record label.  At the point, started becoming as innovative as a buiness guy (for lack of a better term) as he was with his music. He knew that record labels as we knew them were circling the drain, he wasn't sorry to see them go, but he wasn't going down with them. He actually deserves the same credit that a Radiohead, or Aimee Mann or Jeff Tweedy deserve for creating their own path. Anyway, Year Zero was a great album, and may yet be developed into a TV show or film or something else.

In 2008, he started charting that course with Ghosts I-IV, a double album of all instrumentals. Not my favorite album, but super interesting how he did it. The pricing varied from free (you could download the first nine tracks, free of charge) to $350 for the most deluxe version (which sold out of its 2500 run in one day). Some felt that the Ghosts thing was a cop-out, since the lower sales for the album were a given, since instrumental albums don't generally sell that well anway. Later that year, he released another album, The Slip (this one a more "conventional" NIN album). Which was written, recorded and released within three weeks (and offered as a free download). The tour for the album was one of the most elaborate and intense (and poorly-attended - the upper level of the Izod Center was totally barren) that I have ever seen.

I was glad that Trent said that he would retire Nine Inch Nails this year. Trent has recently said on that there's some unreleased NIN music coming out in 2010, and some music that isn't Nine Inch Nails.  I think he has a lot of great music left in him, and I'm sure he will still perform NIN songs if he feels like it. But it seems like a great time for his next evolution, and I can't wait to see how that manifests itself.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
Steve Earle
Ben Harper
Alicia Keys
Norah Jones

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