Nine Inch Nails is releasing a new album after 5 years of technically being inactive (unless you count HTDA and Reznor/Ross soundtracks as NIN which I do even though I know it’s wrong) and the new song that was released to give us a preview of the album has put a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t hate it, and I’ve listened to it several times, but the lyrics are rehashed and disappointing, and the music sounds like Discipline, The Hand That Feeds, and Demon Seed (some of Reznor’s weakest tracks all by themselves in my opinion) remixed together rather than a new song. It has me a bit worried that Nine Inch Nails is going to finally put out an album I genuinely don’t like (I love even his weakest entries so far) I wonder how everyone else feels about the new track, and below I’ve written very brief opinions on all of his prior full length albums to put it in perspective.
PRETTY HATE MACHINE (1989)
Realistically PHM is a good album but is far from being a great album. I love it and so does everyone else, because it’s fun, it was original, and it was the start of something great. The album itself has problems, the original mix can sound pretty hollow and simple, and some of the lyrics are just downright atrocious, but in a way we can all look back on and enjoy. There’s more good than bad, but it’s essentially Reznor’s college thesis project: his “I have talent but I need experience, can I have the job?” album.
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL (1994)
It’s Reznor’s most original, most dense, and most cohesive piece. It’s also probably his best loved album, and I can include myself with the people who feel that way. It’s one of the most refined and delicately crafted albums of it’s time (or any time) while also sounding grittier, heavier, and dirtier at times than most deathgrind. It tells a story, it doesn’t wander, and it’s still heartfelt and intense. It’s Reznor’s real masterpiece, and the reason NIN is one of the most recognizable band names in the world. There are songs scattered through Reznor’s other albums that one could argue are better than anything on TDS, but no other album pulls so many of those great pieces together into one cogent piece of art.
THE FRAGILE (1999)
The Fragile is a beautiful soundscape with dreamlike and dense lyricism, but it has some problems. It meanders over too much territory without telling a specific story unless you split it according to its discs, but listening to one disc without the other is unsatisfying. Critics also argue that songwriting got buried and forgotten in soundscaping, and there is some legitimacy to that point (though personally my favorite tracks are the ones with no discernable song structure and I love listening to the album straight through) The weak is mixed in with the strong on this album more so than on TDS, bringing down the effort over-all. Despite these problems it is still a great album (genuinely great, not in the same way as PHM) and personally I love it every bit as much as TDS, and it still shows Reznor growing and improving as an artist.
With_Teeth is a solid radio rock album with strong songwriting and musicianship, but that’s as far as it goes. After building dozens of mind blowing tracks throughout the previous 11 years, Reznor released and album that while pretty good in it’s own right, did not play in the same ballpark as his last two albums. With_Teeth is only as good as Pretty Hate Machine, but without the nostalgia, 80’s recording tech, or new and original flavor for it’s simplicity and shortcomings to be so easily forgiven. I enjoy this album and there are moments that I love, but if I were ten years younger and therefore was introduced to NIN through this album and its radio singles, I would not likely have ended up a diehard fan and collector. Even when it was brand new I was already beginning the obligatory 5-year countdown in my head until the next major style change/album.
YEAR ZERO (2007)
It was only a three year wait, and Year Zero was much more dense, noisy, passionate and technical than W_T, Which made a hell of a lot of people including myself very happy. Year Zero retained some of the style of the With_Teeth era, but with much more artistry and focus, plus a return to Reznor’s earlier heavier, noisier and more industrial work. The album ranks along with TDS and The Fragile in scope and quality and is legitimately a great album by any set of standards.
GHOSTS I-IV (2008)
Each of the brief tracks on this set of albums is beautiful and intriguing, but with no connection from track to track on a 4 disc instrumental release, it just becomes a collection of 2 minute clips of Reznor and his friends tinkering, and is unlistenable except as either individual tracks when the mood strikes for one, or as background music while doing another task. I would like to not count this as an album or central release, and rather categorize it with things like Still. but technically it’s an album and is on the list. This is my least favorite NIN release aside from the domestic single for Head Like A Hole simply because it is the only release I cannot listen to straight through solely for the purpose of strapping in and listening to some music.
THE SLIP (2008)
The Slip is a fairly solid and heartfelt rock album with good riffs and lyrics to sing/scream along with, but in many ways it is a rush job, overly simple, and stylistically perhaps too much of a return to With_Teeth. I enjoy most of the tracks on the album but it becomes weak towards the end, and feels so brief that it would have been better for Reznor to leave off two or three of the lesser tracks and just categorize The Slip as a stand alone EP alongside Broken, in which case it would be viewed in a better light. I still really love listening to The Slip, but it is far removed from the quality of The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, and Year Zero.
HESITATION MARKS (2013)
Obviously my individual opinion is not all that important, but I am a serious music enthusiast and particularly a Nine Inch Nails freak, even defending the With Teeth era of music against other fans who had decided it was a bad album, I have 80+ pieces in my collection and you would be hard pressed to find a NIN or related track that I am not pretty intimately familiar with, so I do think my opinion has some merit.
What does everyone else think about the new track?