Do younger generations look at Trent Reznor and NIN as some sort of fossilized, angry rich uncle? I hear folks a few years younger than me saying things of that nature. And maybe they have a point to some degree. What’s Reznor got to be mad about these days? Maybe the point isn’t that he’s angry. Maybe he’s more of an impressionistic painter using sound as his colors? Aggression as his brush? I mean, people still go nuts for Quentin Tarantino’s obscene, violence-filled talkie fests and he’s a rich middle-aged dude. What’s the difference? Really, what’s the difference? Even middle-aged dads need to vent sometimes. NIN helps out with that. It’s escapism for the responsible 9 to 5 guys and gals. It’s a shot of adrenaline anger that only kids of the Reagan 80s and Clinton 90s seem to really appreciate.
The career of Nine Inch Nails can be broken up into two parts: when I couldn’t stand them, and then when I got them. The first part was from when I was in high school up to 2005. I didn’t get the anger and screaming. I didn’t get the self hate, self pity, and nihilistic view of the world. Maybe I was too happy of a guy; too well-adjusted and content to look at the brighter side of things. Of course, none of that crap was true because by the time 2005 rolled around I was a husband and father of three kids. I was taking night classes for a degree I didn’t care about that was supposed to save me from a job I didn’t care about. I bought With Teeth on a trip to some big chain box store because we needed diapers and a new garbage can. Why not buy a cd by a band I don’t really care about while I’m at it?
Turns out, With Teeth was that album that graciously opened the door to the world of Trent Reznor for me. Not Pretty Hate Machine when I was 17 or The Downward Spiral when I was 20. It was an album that came out when I was 31 years old. I was nearly middle-aged with a wife, kids, a mortgage, and debt up to my head like a hole. Maybe that says a lot about the album and why so many fans didn’t like it, I don’t know. But in retrospect that record was a turning point for Trent Reznor, whether he regrets With Teeth or not. It feels and sounds like a palate cleanser of a record. Cleaner, clear-eyed, and the first time Trent Reznor directed his anger outward instead of inward. From that record on it sounded like Reznor was advancing the NIN canon into fresher territory, and each successive album was a step to where he’s at now. Zero Year was the personal laptop record where NIN took that outward view to songwriting to the next level. Ghosts was Reznor’s first foray into scoring. A whole concept scored like a film. The Slip may seem like backsliding to some, but I feel like it’s this beautifully built record that feels like a bit of a goodbye to the pop concept of an album. The next year Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross began their film scoring career with David Fincher’s The Social Network.
After two more scores with Fincher and the 2013 NIN album Hesitation Marks the Reznor/Ross team has returned as NIN and given us Not The Actual Events. It’s a 5-song EP of mix-and-match aggression that runs the gamut between techno punk, New Order-on-steroids electronic, slow burn material, and white noise distortion blowouts. It’s a nice tease that hopefully will be preceding something bigger and better.
Things start out nicely with “Branches/Bones”, it’s a nice kick in the teeth that’s in and out in under 2 minutes. Feels nice, like putting on a great old jacket that still fits just right. “Dear World” clicks and beeps along like a more aggressive Kraftwerk. To me, this sounds like Reznor honing in on all the great elements he’s come across over the years. A perfect collection of sounds. “She’s Gone Away” is a little too much like How To Destroy Angels for my taste. It’s interesting, but ultimately a bit too plodding for an EP. “The Idea Of You” has Dave Grohl where he does his best work, behind a drum set. It’s a heavy track that relies on dread and a machine gun blast of a chorus that’s equal parts “Wish” and some sort of new age proto punk. “Burning Bright(Field On Fire)” feels like the next phase. It’s slow, methodical, and a wall of white noise. It’s a Goliath of dense distortion and bombast that still in its roots feels planted in the nerdy love of guys like Gary Numan, Joy Division, and Suicide.
Not The Actual Events is a bunch of welcoming sounds to ring in the new year. Let’s hope there’s more to come.
7.2 out 10