Saturday, April 21, 2007

Trent Reznor Phones One In On The Fax Line

It seems that these days I only review new albums I don't care for from artists I used to like and still hold some shred of loyalty to, despite their seemingly doing everything in their power to force me out of their circle of fandom. You'd almost come to think I don't like much of any music, or that I'm trying to be controversial by discrediting popular staples, but I don’t really see that as the case. I mean, I do already refuse to blindly accept something as "good" just because it is popular, but that's not the reason I've been scrutinizing certain new releases so harshly. It's actually because I expect something more, something better, from the artists in question. The number of truly exceptional releases has been woefully small in the past couple years with seemingly only a few bands never failing to astound me, such as Killing Joke, Dead Soul Tribe, and Simple Minds. If you think that's sad, well, it probably is.

I don't necessarily want to become a counterculture cliché by coming out and saying KMFDM > NIN, but Trent Reznor's just now starting to dabble in electronic distortion effects that KFMDM experimented with in 1998 and got bored with by 2000. Not only that, but KMFDM produced the balls-out, menacingly angry political rant album, WWIII in 2003, a full four years before Trent decided to try his hand at political commentary.

I'm not saying that Mr. Reznor is any less perpetually pissed off at the world, nor am I saying that he's not far less tongue-in-cheek than KMFDM generally is, but this album lacks a certain hostility that KMFDM put forth with their album. For an artist so routinely angry, one would suspect that his attack on the world situation would be dripping with far more seething rage. Sadly, however, With Teeth made for an angrier Nine Inch Nails album. Perhaps someone should remind Mr. Reznor that adding a bunch of loud distortion effects to songs don't make them any angrier or harder if your heart's just not into it, which his seems to not be. I could say that he phoned in a number of these songs, and by the sound of it, he got the fax line more often than not.

That's not to say there isn't merit to this album. Trent Reznor is an intelligent songwriter, and he makes some bold and poignant statements with these songs. Kiddies who haven't quite diverged enough from the consumer trend bandwagon to have discovered bands like KMFDM or Killing Joke will find much of this album shocking and prolific. I would, too, had both of those bands and a whole gamut of others been making the same points since Bush started considering invading Iraq. Still, Trent had his own unique perspective to spin on the situation, so I can respect that, even if it's no longer anything radical or irreverent.

"The Good Soldier" is one of the more interesting songs Trent Reznor has produced since The Fragile. It's a more serene song with a slow jazz, sort of "porn groove" beat with intermittent stretches of heavy guitar and soothing keyboard riffs and it ends in an epic flair with the trademark dissonance that has been established with the rest of the album. This is a much better song than its predecessor, "Survivalism" and should have been released as the first single instead.

"Vessel" reminds me a lot of KMFDM's "Ikons," but at least the atonal distortion in the last half of the song is interesting, if you go for that sort of thing. "Capital G" is the other truly good song from this album. It's a tongue-in-cheek song delivered in complete, serious sincerity. It's funny if you realize just who he's implying "signs his name with a capital 'G,'" and for a hint, it's not God. The verses are sung with a very arrogant and very simple inflection, like a stuck-up retard, and from the point of view of the man who "signs his name with a capital 'G.'" The choruses are angrier, and I believe are intended to represent the public's outrage at the deception and manipulation caused by this man.

The rest of the album following this song drags through a roaring sea of banal, redundant mediocrity. If there are any profound statements to be found in the lyrics on the second half of the album, it gets lost in the poorly conceived song compositions. It seems that Trent decided to sit this one out in terms of song structure and instead decided to fill the void with random and often atonal filler noise that overall fails to hold much interest with the listener. It does have a lot of heavy beats and meaningless harshness, so all the angry, little industrial goth, Matrix wanna-be kids will have yet another album to stomp around to while they're feeling superior to anyone who doesn't have to look menacing to compensate for a lack of penile confidence.

It rounds off with "Zero-Sum," the only epic song over five minutes on the entire album. It's a slower, more reflective song, and compositionally harkens back to the first half of the album. After the second half, it almost seems out-of-place despite being a wonderful choice for an album closer. It, in itself, is almost enough to make the more discerning listener forgive the irritating and abrasive disharmony that encompasses more than fifty percent of the album.

Trent has notably increased his reliance on heavy electronic distortion effects on this album seemingly to create a noisier and angrier sound through dissonance, but the effects are ill-applied in a lot of places. There's a reason why people don't like to call fax lines or modems with their telephones, so likewise hearing similar sounds being manipulated loudly into music through their iPod earbuds may not be the most ejaculatory of listening experiences either.

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