Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile : Deviations 1

So right off the bat it must be said that this very unique version of Trent Reznor’s 1999 masterpiece ode to mental breakdown and substance abuse is for a very limited number of Nine Inch Nails fans. Of those fans there’s two kinds of fans that will want this: the hardcore completists and the soundtrack fans. The casual window shoppers, the mild interest guys and gals, and that one guy that never “got it” after Pretty Hate Machine need not apply. This one isn’t for you. Thanks for stopping by, though. Sure, take a beer with you. See you later…

Okay, now that we’re alone let’s talk about The Fragile : Deviations 1.

So back in December, along with the release of Not The Actual Events, it was announced that a definitive version of Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile was being released. It was meticulously remastered by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. As a huge fan of The Fragile I was pretty excited about this prospect. As well as the original album, there was also an oddity announced in The Fragile : Deviations 1. It’s an instrumental version of the 1999 record. The album was completely remixed and remastered as instrumental fare. According to NIN.com:

A very special limited edition of The Fragile is now available for preorder in the NIN store. This unique version of NIN’s classic record was created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and features 37 instrumental, alternate and unreleased tracks, many of which have never been heard before anywhere.”

Reznor explains, ‘The Fragile occupies a very interesting and intimate place in my heart. I was going through a turbulent time in my life when making it and revisiting it has become a form of therapy for me. As an experiment, I removed all the vocals from the record and found it became a truly changed experience that worked on a different yet compelling level. The Fragile: Deviations 1 represents Atticus and I embellishing the original record with a number of tracks from those sessions we didn’t use before. The result paints a complimentary but different picture we wanted to share.

Not being what I’d call a hardcore NIN fan, but also not a mild occasional listener, I was intrigued by the prospect of an instrumental version of the first NIN record I sort of really got into. Two years prior to The Fragile I’d totally fallen for NINs “The Perfect Drug” off David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack, so in 1999 I was ready to fall for a NIN record. After a day or two of mulling it over in December I decided to throw caution to the wind and I preordered this behemoth of a set(it’s 4 LPs at $80.)

According to their website it was supposed to ship in April of 2017. April came and went. As did May and June. I found myself going back to old emails to make sure I hadn’t dreamt preordering this damn record. I did indeed order this thing. Finally in July I’d gotten a confirmation email that this record was shipping and a week later a heavy, flat, square box showed up on the front porch.

It arrived.

I’ve been spinning this record on and off for the last couple weeks. I stand by my first statement that this is something of a completist-only kind of album. Most folks aren’t going to fall head over heals for this album. No vocals, it’s an album that pushes the wall of sonics to the forefront. It’s gone from an epic ode to self hate and utter emotional devastation to something that transcends that pain and turns it into something far different from its origins. It doesn’t feel angry and pained anymore.

The Fragile : Deviations 1 feels like something of a rebirth of the original album.

This is a completist kind of album, but it’s also for those fans of the Reznor/Ross film scores. First, the music is still there. It’s brighter, louder, and more in focus. The guitars hum with a vibrancy. Without the vocals your attention is pushed towards the amazing job Reznor and Ross did on engineering this thing. It really does sound like a score to some lost dystopian film. Something like Wim Wenders doing a post-apocalyptic arthouse epic. Paris, Texas-meets-The Road Warrior. Listening to these songs with new ears you really do notice just how cinematic Reznor’s arranging truly was, even back in 1999. He was definitely working towards becoming that film composer he’s become. With Trent Reznor making Atticus Ross a permanent member of NIN only goes to show just how important that musical partnership has become. Sure, he was in How To Destroy Angels with Reznor and Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig, but for him to be a permanent member of NIN is something else. It was always just Reznor writing and recording in the studio, with a band assembled for gigs. Having Ross as a permanent member truly shows the importance of that partnership.

I feel I’m rambling here. This record is a masterpiece to my ears. It’s one I happily add to the collection of Reznor/Ross collaborations. I feel that their scores for The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Before The Flood, and Patriot’s Day are modern classics. They are all unique in their own way, but carry with each of them that Reznor/Ross DNA strand that gives them all this cohesive, arthouse charm. I would put The Fragile : Deviations 1 in the same category as their film scores. With unreleased tracks, alternate takes, and extended versions of songs this album feels like it’s own musical beast. It’s almost like the score to the making of a concept album about a guy’s fall into madness. It’s very meta if you think about it.

This one is definitely worth your time if you’re willing to commit to the ride. If you’re looking for “Head Like A Hole”, you should look elsewhere.

9. 2 out of 10

Nine Inch Nails : Not The Actual Events

Do younger generations look at Trent Reznor and NIN as some sort of fossilized, angry rich uncle? I hear folks a few years younger ninthan 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

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2015 Inductees : A Short Rant

huhYou know, there are so many other things to be upset about rather than the new inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Taliban slaughtering nearly 140 students in Pakistan; the militarization of our local police forces in the US and subsequent pointless murders committed by these thugs in blue; the ever present arguments against common sense and fact when discussing religion compared to scientific data; Battle of the Network Stars reruns.

There’s plenty to be upset about in the world, yet I choose to be cheesed off by a few decisions regarding 2015s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions. That’s just me. And looking at the list a good majority of them I feel are very deserved of the honor. Bill Withers, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble are all incredibly worthy of their placement in those hallowed halls that sit next to Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio. Lou Reed? Well this feels more like a gimme since he died last year, but I won’t deny what he’s done for rock and roll. I think more so with the Velvet Underground than on his own, but I could be completely wrong about that(I’ll never admit it.)

There are two inductees in-particular I’m a little perplexed about; Green Day and Ringo Starr. There were two nomimated artists that didn’t get inducted that I’m equally perplexed about; NIN and Kraftwerk. I guess my question on both accounts is, well, why?

Ringo Starr has already been inducted with the Beatles, and rightfully so. No question he should be in there with the Fab Four. But as a solo artist he completely should not be. Besides a few radio hits in the 70s and lots of guest spots with other artists I don’t get what constitutes him being inducted? Tell me, please. He didn’t redefine or innovate the art on his own. I like Ringo, don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a fantastic drummer and from what I can tell a pretty great guy. Seems down to earth and friendly. Here’s the thing though, if he was inducted over Kraftwerk I think that was a huge mistake. Kraftwerk essentially created electronic music. Sure, others were messing with electronics in the medium of music for years before Kraftwerk came onto the scene, but they made it into a listenable genre. Not only that but they created a visual counterpart to the music. They were true innovators. They should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with their creepy faces and IBM computers, not Ringo and his, well, drums.

Green Day. Hmm. I know a lot of people that love this band. LOVE them. I’m friends with a good portion of these folks. I’ve never disliked Green Day. I think there were usually three or four songs per album that I quite liked. Hell, they made it possible to listen to the radio and not have to turn the station back in the 90s. And there was something about Billie Jo Armstrong’s guitar sound that always appealed to me. It was this crunch that I could never quite achieve, and it was exquisite in its overdriven punk bliss.

But do I see them as being inductee material? No, not really. I always just found them to be a little too shallow for such an honor. I know they did the American Idiot thing and the 21st Century Breakdown thing, and both of those showed there was a hell of a lot more to these guys than just that pop/punk moniker. But those are just two albums. These guys are my age for Christ’s sake. I think a few more years of writing and recording are in order before they get this kind of honor. And for them to get in and not NIN? Seriously? Once again, an artist that has redefined and innovated is snubbed over an artist that, while was and still is wildly successful, hasn’t done much to push the genre forward. Up until American Idiot Green Day seemed to be doing the same thing for ten years, at least to my ears. By the time Reznor put out The Downward Spiral, his second album as NIN, he’d completely rewritten the book on electronic and industrial music. His second album was a masterpiece of anger and self-hate, and a game changer in sonic manipulation and production. Green Day’s second album was called Dookie.

I don’t know. Who’s to say who is worthy of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? What does it really matter? Anymore this seems as pointless and vapid as the Grammys. We love the artists we love and that’s that. We don’t need a committee to tell us they’re worthy of some shitty award, or a plaque on a wall in some weird, pyramid-shaped building sitting next to Lake Erie. We know they’re great and that they deserve all the accolades in the world. We know who the true innovators and genre definers really are. We’re right and they’re wrong.

I mean I’m right and you’re wrong. Goddamn right.

and so it has begun…

DSC03729It was nearly 3:30am and I was sleeping quite comfortably when I felt a presence.  I opened my eyes slowly and saw a smallish figure standing next to me.  “I can’t fall asleep.  I keep waking up, and my head hurts.”  “You’ve been in bed for six hours”, I said to my distraught son.  “Let me feel you’re…oh man you’re burning up.”  We walked out into the kitchen to check the fever and to get some Ibuprofen.  As I poured the Ibuprofen into the medicine cup my son leaned over into the kitchen sink and emptied his stomach contents.

Three weeks into the school year and the illnesses have begun.

First it was last week and my ten year old daughter came home with fever and sore throat.  Hers didn’t last but a couple days(Praise Jebus), and as of early this afternoon we’ve had three popsicles and have watched ample amounts of Justice League, The Simpsons, and more Justice League.  There hasn’t been any throw up since 10am, so maybe we’re through the worst of it.  Maybe.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this year’s “flu season”.  I already know a handful of people that have had this nasty crap, ranging from head/chest colds to full-on “vomitus eruptus”.  So I’ve made the tough decision to pull the kids out of school and I will home school them in a sterile, germ-free environment.  I’ve already made some calls and there will be a company coming over to give me quotes on what it will cost to convert our garage into a sterile room.  I’ve given work my two week’s notice and have ordered a teachers desk made of pvc and coated in visqueen.  I haven’t talked to my wife, or the kids for that matter, about these new arrangements.  But I figure they’ll understand.  And once they realize we’ll be that much safer and healthier, I think everyone will be on board.  And really, homeschooling will be fun.  We can have story time out in the yard(in our plastic suits of course).  We can study horror film history, famous guitarists of the 20th Century, pizza etiquette, and independent study of DC and Marvel supervillains, and the finer points of Swedish cinema…

Ehh, I guess I’ll just buy lots of Kleenex, pain reliever, and Clorox Wipes.  And I’ll call work and tell ’em I’ll be in tomorrow.

I’ve been listening to NIN Hesitation Marks all week, and all I have to say is that if you were a fan of Mr. Reznor once, you will be a fan once again.  It’s classic Nine Inch Nails.  Definitely reaching back and getting jiggy with the 808 beats and slithery electronica.  I hear a lot of folks say they miss the angsty and angry stuff from 1994, well I’m here to say “stop living in the past, man!”  Reznor is finally comfortable in his own skin now, after years of whatever crazy crap was going through his head.  It’s the danciest record he’s made in years, and the second half of the album is probably the best music he’s made since the 90s.  I’m going to write a review very soon.  Until then, you should just grab a copy.  I recommend the 180 gram vinyl, as it’s pretty amazing sounding.  But there’s a great audiophile digital download version out there, so snag it.

All right, someone wants another Avengers popsicle.

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NIN: Hesitation Marks out Sept. 3rd

reznorSo the retirement didn’t last as long as you’d think(you’d think retirement lasts forever, at least in my neck of the woods it does).  We’re the better for it if “Came Back Haunted” is any indication as to what NIN 2.0 is offering.  This song seems to encapsulate all the best bits of every NIN era.  From the frantic industrial dance vibe of Pretty Hate Machine, to the pained mid-career drug-addled self pity, to the healthy but still pissed off mid-2000s renaissance, clear up to Reznor’s excellent film work with Atticus Ross.  It’s all there, but bigger.  The song is huge-sounding.  Not like symphony huge, or Rick Rubin “loudness war” huge.  But like at any minute the song is going to explode.  Trent Reznor’s passion for NIN has been reignited, and the flames are getting closer to the gasoline shed, so to speak.

For all intents and purposes, it seemed as if NIN had been boxed up in a mothball-filled crate somewhere in Reznor’s back closet(where he keeps all his leather pants and assorted absinthe mixers) and he’d moved on to more adult projects.  First a band with his beautiful wife, then film scores for David Fincher(which were excellent, btw).  There was talk of some sort of venture with Dr. Dre, or Ice Cube, or the estate of Easy E.  Well, all of those were real things that pointed to the idea that NIN really was just a distant, f****d up dream we all had in the 90s, followed by the mid-2000s hallucination of another version of the band where this beefy dude that looked like the skinny dude that fronted NIN way back when was now fronting them. Reznor had devoured Henry Rollins and Glen Danzig and had replaced the absinthe with whey shakes and protein bars.

But has this all been just a rue?  Something to distract us from what was going on behind the scene?  Maybe.  I’m not for certain, and I really don’t care.  “Came Back Haunted” is a stellar track and if it’s any indication as to where NIN is headed I’m on board.

I’m pretty much a newbie in the world of NIN and Trent Reznor.  The first album I bought of NIN was With Teeth.  I was 17-18 years old when Pretty Hate Machine came out and I wasn’t a fan.  The Downward Spiral came out right about the same time as Soundgarden’s Superunknown, so I pretty much ignored Trent’s masterpiece.  It wasn’t until The Fragile in 1999 that I began to come around to what he was doing.  I won a copy of it from a Fort Wayne radio station, so that was technically the first album I owned of NIN.  I just didn’t buy it.  But from With Teeth on I’ve been a loyal fan of Trent Reznor, and I feel despite what some mega fans from the very beginning would think,  Reznor has done his strongest work from 2005 on.  Since 2005, he’s put out With Teeth, Year Zero, Ghosts I-IV, The Slip, two sprawling and epic film scores for The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, an e.p. and a full-length debut with How To Destroy Angels…..AND he’s got arms like a longshoremen, grew a beard, got married, grew a couple kids, and has joined N.W.A with Dr. Beats and Ice Pack.  I don’t care what you think about NIN, Trent Reznor just took the crown from James Brown as the hardest work person in the f*****g universe.  All hail, Reznor!  All hail, Reznor!

And if the new single and new album weren’t enough, NIN is hitting the road for a massive U.S. tour with a revamped live version of NIN which includes one of our favorite musicians here at jhubner73.com, Mr. Adrian Belew.  AND, playing shows with Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  I think I just squealed out loud after typing that.  Will this tour be coming near me?  Not really.  Cleveland, OH and Auburn Hills, MI are the closest it gets.  Hmm, a visit to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame would be sorta cool.  Haven’t been there since 97′.  Something to discuss with the Mrs.

Anyways, yeah, this is really happening.  This isn’t a 90s flashback, or a flashback of a mid-2000s fever dream.  This is real.  Nine Inch Nails are back, and they’re taking over.

Update:  Adrian Belew DID contribute to the album, but apparently is NOT part of the touring band.  Bummer.