By: Eric Greenwood
Sure, Nine Inch Nails is gospel for self-anointed rejects that tend to wear too much white face paint, oversize black t-shirts, and have too many zippers on their tapered black pants from Hot Topic, but to discerning music obsessives, Trent Reznor is a pretentious schmuck with bad lyrics. Some will give him a pass for his debut, Pretty Hate Machine, probably out of nostalgic sentimentality, but most would just as soon be tarred and feathered as to give Nine Inch Nails the time of day, or as Courtney Love christened them after a tryst with Reznor in the mid-'90's, "Three Inch Nails."
I will admit that I've never really hated Nine Inch Nails' music. It was always Reznor's self-important, clichéd lyrics that made me laugh, but the music always sounded like a cold slap compared to the tired, post-Nirvana schlock that tended to hog the airwaves throughout the '90's. As I impatiently waited through the opening track, "All the Love in the World", for Reznor to train-wreck lyrically, I found myself blown away by the music. It's far and away Reznor's most sophisticated composition, replete with Aphex Twin-inspired beats and a modal shift on the piano, wherein Reznor showcases his latent falsetto. And no embarrassing lyrics. It's not exactly poetry, but at least it doesn't make you cringe. That is not to say there aren't moments on the album where Reznor dips his narcissistic quill in the shit-stained ink well, but nine times out of ten he saves himself with a clever hook or some sort of teeth-gnashing industrial assault.
No other song captures the level of climax or sophistication as the opener, but Dave Grohl's drumming adds a raucous intensity to the proto-industrial searing of "You Know What You Are?" The new wave romp of "Only" makes The Faint look like pitiful amateurs. And for a guy that has so little to say with so few ways to say it, Trent Reznor has mastered the art of making what is old sound new again.