After the release of "With Teeth" some may question the rather brisk arrival of another Nine Inch Nails album. Then again, with band mastermind Trent Reznor finally getting a handle on his legendary substance abuse while also pumping enough iron to look like a WWE hopeful, such streamlined productivity just may be the new status quo.
Self reinvention isn't all Reznor is ready to show off though. Hell, the marketing campaign for this album alone has already reinvented how a record can be pushed, from songs being leaked on strategically placed USB drives to an extensive alternate reality game and even a CD that changes color when exposed to heat.
But hype is hype and music is music, and thankfully hype isn't the only thing going for "Year Zero". Admittedly it is an album that doesn't endear itself to first impressions. Despite the fact that Reznor has nearly single-handedly written the auditory equivalent of a sequel to George Orwell's "1984", the chances taken here can easily alienate. But after repeated exposure, both the music and message behind it do become quite provocative, whether subversive or blatant.
Sure it can be argued that this is the same sinewy collection of skeletal electro-rock Reznor plunged into on "With Teeth". There's a predilection to funk, a somewhat questionable choice of verbal inflections and a pulsing energy that keeps it altogether. But even without the relevant imagery and message to what many view as a world on the brink, "Year Zero" is an album that pushes boundaries . A collection of songs where the artist actually delves deep enough into themselves that their vulnerability is put into plain view.
Few albums can conjure up apocalyptic passages and dire atmosphere while also galvanizing the same moral spark that leads to rebellion as well as "Year Zero" - Even if the approach can be a bit haphazard and lengthy. Still, in a world where being politically and socially aware is quickly becoming the foundation for future (ahem) survivalism, it's exciting to find an artist tackle it with nearly every essence of their being; rather than merely sign-on for a benefit concert that has the effect of a raindrop in the desert.
It may not top "The Downward Spiral" or "The Fragile" in terms of artistic scope and impact, but the legacy of "Year Zero" has already been cemented and whether it be for the marketing build-up behind it or the inventive music that comprises it; it's already done more than most albums have so far this century - make people question and think.
(4 / 5)