There are many glowing reviews of the new Nine Inch Nails effort out there in the Blog-o-Globe. But I’ll tell you something about that. The glowing reviews come from either Nine Inch Nails fans, electronic music acolytes or people who just want to give props to Trent Reznor for kicking the music industry another few inches down the long road of progress.
I happen to be all three, so I’ll glow for a while about this album if you’d like. Or maybe we can just take the glow for granted.
I remember one night in Santa Barbara when I went to a coffee house on lower State (that’s no longer there) and pulled a chair up outside in chilly temps, slapped my notebook on the table and plugged myself into The Downward Spiral. Sixty five minutes later I had some words written. They were probably bad, and thanks to the famous Santa Barbara chill, I was a shivering wreck, but I’d made it through the album. I could go home. That’s he kind of Nine Inch Nails fan I am. I dig Reznor’s stuff for the sprawling, multi-part stories that they are. If I drop the disc into the player, it’s got to go all the way through.
I haven’t done that with Ghosts yet. It certainly sprawls, covering four discs, and on the surface, it feels like a shapeless mass of instrumental meandering. But yesterday, I did get through the first two discs in one sitting (new writing session, new town, less biting chill.) I had previously spun through all four discs, but only let them play as background noise. This time I was actually listening. As background noise, the disc is interesting enough, but in headphones, with attention turned inward, it’s a revelation. Reznor’s attention to detail is remarkable and his mastery over sonic texture and nuance draws a dark, twisting thread out of the speakers that can be both gorgeous and unsettling.
As for cohesion? I dunno yet. The Downward Spiral was a symphony, complete with its own movements and leitmotifs. Ghosts I-IV might be too much. Sometimes it plays like a collection of music cues from an apocalyptic film I haven’t seen yet. But I love film scores. And I love Reznor’s dark material. Some people will undoubtedly blast this stuff as nothing more than aimless noodling, but when the noodler is as talented as Reznor, and when the noodles can be had for five bucks it’s certainly worth a listen, and it might be the best five bucks you spend all year.
Listen to a good chunk of the release: