I am fully aware that artists evolve. It is a completely natural process that an artist is shaped by the styles of the time, personal experience and the state of the world around him/her.
Miles Davis comes to mind. I mean the cat played the same instrument for decades, but he has distinct eras to the sound of his music. When you play that long, it happens and most believe that if you don’t change, you stagnate.
That being said, as a listener, you can appreciate the artist style change and evolution, but, let’s admit it, you have your favorite albums and the further the artist deviates from those efforts, the less you are likely to love it.
I have noticed this from Trent Reznor for a while now.
I tend to have a penchant for liking a period of an artists work more than others. I am a completist, so I buy everything from my favorites, but sometimes I am sad about what is coming into my collection.
When Nine Inch Nails released Year Zero (2007)
and The Slip (2008)
I liked them, but in subtle ways I felt that the direction of the music was becoming less jagged and hard-edged. There was a softness creeping in.
Then came: Ghosts I-IV (2008)
This album was all instrumental and although I liked it, it was background music. There was no punch, no standout, it was good, but a sort of sound experiment. In reality it was a view of things to come as Trent and Atticus Ross would create admittedly great soundtrack music. This music was not created as Nine Inch Nails though, so it is what it is. You know going in what you are going to get.
Then came the release of Hesitation Marks (2013).
I was excited by the hype and early praise for the album and purchased my first Nine Inch Nails on vinyl.
Here is my post after listening to it:
Suffice it to say I was not blown away. It had some great moments, but in terms of order of play… I would play almost any other NIN album before this one. It was a bit of a disappointment. Sorry Trent. The album was a bit drony with less breaks and tempo changes and hardly a sharp corner to be felt throughout. Where was the angry, f you I’ll record in the Tate murder house if I want to, dark innards spilled out for all to see Trent that I used to know?!
He wasn’t on here. Maybe wishing he was and being disappointed is on me.
What followed was more soundtracks, again, fantastic work, but not Nine Inch Nails. I kind of postulated that the follow the money principal would keep Trent in soundtrack work forever more, that maybe the Nine Inch Nails brand was worn out for him.
Then came the announcement of a 5 song EP called “Not The Actual Events” (2016).
First of all, the cover is a weak simple rehash of the cover of his Still (2002) live album.
Was this his homage to the equally drab (Sorry David) “David Bowie – The Next Day” cover? Whatever it was, his first chance to wow me was lost immediately. I have become accustomed to his often “feeling over substance” style covers, often incorporating simple textures or blurred images and other artsy styles that make a statement of some sort. Not sure what he was going for here. I rallied with a hearty “don’t judge a book by its cover” admonition and played it.
The first song, “Branches/Bone” was heartening. There was a bit of the old Trent, punchy guitar and driving beat and —-ack, it’s over. The whole song clocks in at only 1:47, so when you start grooving on it and get up and start pogoing and shaking your head, abruptly it’s over.
“Dear World” follows with softly spoken and not sung lyrics with a bit of a computer tinge. Hope you like the beat, it barely changes throughout. Come on man, just give me one scream?
“She’s Gone Away” is a great song, and luckily the longest of the EP at 6:00. This song has the same kind of spoken lyrics as “Dear World” but the music behind it is harder and more jagged. I love the vocal effect at 1:52 in. Sort of like a slow scream? This one is pretty steady and similar throughout, but the music saves it. Bravo Trent. This one would go on my mix tapes for sure.
“The Idea of You” has more spoken lyrics like the previous songs, but they are even harder to make out and the music is just a Ministry sounding backdrop for the blurry vocals. The chorus is good I will admit, but this is the kind of song that would translate to a live show great, but I think the studio treatment effects ruin what could have been a great song, and we end up with just an ok song.
Then we get to song 5… “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)”. Maybe it’s just me but this song COULD be great, but the production makes everything sound so muddy that when you get to the chorus “…break though the surface and breathe…” it is the only part you can latch on to.
Come on man, I know that voice is strong. I want to hear it!
I’m not asking for all the anger from the 80’s, you can temper it a bit, but this album, that I was hoping would be a return to form is a confusing mix of substance.
I’m gonna go listen to “Broken” and reminisce.