“Zero Sum” by Nine Inch Nails
I was in Australia when the last interesting album by Nine Inch Nails came out. That was The Fragile, and the year was 1999. A few years ago, his follow-up to that album was released. With Teeth it was called. I barely noticed. I mean, sure, I listened to it, but there was nothing that struck me as interesting or great about it. It wasn’t “interesting” in the same way The Fragile was. And the word, interesting, is hardly a compliment. There’s stuff to love about The Fragile (the smoldering build of “Somewhat Damaged,” for example,) but most of it was, well, just good. It didn’t come close to the towering greatness that was The Downward Spiral, an album so good and so nuanced and so complex that if I were making a list of the ten Albums That Mattered Most in All Of My Recorded Time, it would likely claim a berth.
I needn’t explain why, when Year Zero came out, I was hardly expecting much. Even its crazy marketing, which involved mysterious websites and numerous clues of a sinister nature that alluded to the album’s theme, served to bolster my anticipation. But damned if it wasn’t a halfway decent album. In fact, there are moments of aggression and beauty on it that make me wonder whether it isn’t the true follow-up to Spiral. “Zero Sum” is a good example of what I like about Nine Inch Nails at their best. Reznor has a knack for building a rough, saw-bladed rhythm and then plucking notes of delicate beauty out of the air around it and weaving them together. This tune is on the thoughtful, pensive side. Indeed, it kinda jogs along at a quiet pace, and taken out of context of the album itself, which tells a dark and metaphorical tale of a world gone seriously awry, it loses some of its power. But here it is anyway. Take it and love it and call it your own.