On March 5, 2013, Trent Reznor released new music with his new band, How to destroy angels_ (yes that underscore is supposed to be there don’t ask me why I don’t know either). Therefore one can conclude that no matter how middling or meh this output happens to be, it is still Trent and Trent still rules the roost in Neiltown. That being said, htda’s debut LP — Welcome Oblivion — is not awful.
On one hand, you’ve got the good stuff, the shit that sounds like a conventional song, which, Trent being Trent, sometimes is not so easily attained. Lead single “How long?” is the closest you’re going to come to convention. There’s a chorus (I think?), some lyrics, it’s catchy. This might be played on a really cool radio station that nobody listens to. On these so-called “good” songs, it just sounds like a NIN song where Trent is replaced by his wife, Mariqueen (seriously, even her delivery sounds exactly like Trent). I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.
On the other hand, you get a whole shitload of stuff that sounds like Ghosts or Year Zero, my two least-favorite NIN projects. While I appreciate the thought put into both albums, man cannot live on concept alone. Ghosts tries my patience, even if there are some gorgeous tidbits floating around those 4 volumes of tedium. Year Zero has its moments as well, but God help me, half the songs sound the same. SNORE.
That’s how I listened to this album. The songs either fall on the “songs” side, or on the “Oh GAWD Trent, no more Ghosts/Year Zero/David Fincher movie score castaways!” (or somewhere in between). Here they are, presented alongside convenient “File This Under” acronyms (i.e. “YZ” = Year Zero, “G” = Ghosts, etc.):
“Songs” (a.k.a. download/listen to these if your attention span is as small as mine)
1. “Ice Age” – cute folksy little track that strums on and on and on. It’s catchy enough and sticks in your head. (Ghosts/Fragile)
2. “On the wing” – more sleepy harmonies from Trent and Mariqueen, yet this sounds a lot like a Goldfrapp song that snuck onto Year Zero. Which is awesome. Hence the placement in “Songs” rather than below in the “Not So Bad.” (YZ/The Slip)
3. “How long?” – THE standout track of this album and a good enough reason for the creation of this entire LP. It is a grower, but oh boy, what an earworm. I played the shit out of this track and I’m not even sick of it. It finally sounds like Mariqueen’s gig, not a cheap cover version of a NIN song. I love, love, love this song. (sounds like htda.)
4. “Strings and attractors” – more masturbatory Ghosts shit. I’m so done with these blips and bloops and bleeps. Mariqueen sounds nice and angelic on this track, but as with “Too late, all gone,” it tries my patience. Not sure why, but I just want to press the “next” button… and then, THEN it becomes something else. Something Fragile-y. And I’m back onboard. (G/F)
“Not So Bad” (a.k.a. I’ll take what I can get…)
1. “The Wake-up” – a good intro. Short and sweet. (YZ/G)
2. “Keep It Together” – droning and monotonous, but hey, there are vocals! VOCALS! (YZ)
3. “And the sky began to scream” – the blips and bleeps get a bit more aggressive and Mariqueen drops the vox (barely) again… this is like begging for crumbs. (YZ)
4. “Welcome oblivion” – vox TOTALLY sound like Trent… starts off Year Zero-y, ends with some surprisingly awesome Fragile-sounding twangs and drums. (YZ/F)
5. “The loop closes” – this is a strange one. You’ve got the Year Zero production, but also some flourishes of Fragile and even Downward Spiral (!!!!!!) instrumentation. It’s another mainly-instrumental wank-fest, but it’s surprisingly gratifying. This track also has the most Trent vocal presence, if you care. (DS/F/YZ)
6. “Hallowed ground” – the delicate closer of the album is a mixed bag. You’ve got your icy piano tinkling, which reminds me of Still, and your ominous Year Zero electro-beats. It’s peaceful and relaxing and if you’ve made it this far, just enjoy it and be glad the album is finished. (S/YZ)
“Jesus Christ, Trent Reznor… enough of this shit!”
1. “Too late, all gone” – this sounds EXACTLY like a Year Zero castaway that replaced Trent’s vocals with Mariqueen. I don’t know why it bugs me so much… maybe because it feels lazy? I don’t want to hear any more Year Zero shit, let alone a track that’s supposed to be for another group. And it’s not even a bad song (technically, for whoever you are reading this, it’s worth a download. Honestly.), I just have lost patience at this point.
2. “We fade away” – Ghosts with vocals. Again. Sigh. It’s not terrible by any means, but an album full of b-side worthy songs is not an album. (G)
3. “Recursive self-improvement” – oh, these fucking song titles. We’re on track 11 and you can tell I’m clearly getting frustrated. Even Radiohead are not this self-indulgent (fightin’ words!). Should I have bought Amok instead? I’m not even sure. Let me go get another beer while this song blips its way to the end… This sounds like the soundtrack to a video they play in the computer exhibits at science museums. (Social Network castoff?)
The problem with NewTrent (i.e. post-drugs, clean-living buff TR) is the quality of the output. It used to be that we had to wait fucking YEARS between NIN projects. As a kid, this felt like an eternity. OldTrent would drop off the face of the earth and, being the time before Facebook and Twitter, we had to rely on news websites and rock mags for any news of his whereabouts. Then he’d magically reappear, drop a new single, and heads would explode. This is why I’d wait in line for a midnight release of a new NIN album.
Then, starting in 2005, NIN came roaring back with With Teeth (in my opinion, their last good album) and it’s been a steady outpouring of project after project of whatever NewTR feels like tossing to his fans. Year Zero. Niggy Tardust. Ghosts. The Slip. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Social Network. This. It’s too much. I’d rather he release something mindblowing twice a decade instead of the same old bloopy-blippy shit, stretched out over ten volumes with various scores and soundtracks in the mix. May God help me, but I’m sick of wading through this muck and mire just to find one or two songs that connect.
Their self-titled debut EP is still their best output, by far. Because SONGS. Four of six tracks from the Omen EP appear on Welcome Oblivion, making that EP a waste of time. Yet I still buy them all. And I’m still going to the concert in April. I trust Trent’s vision and will at least appreciate this as an artistic statement. But this is yet another project where I’d be just as satisfied downloading a couple songs and getting on with my life. I’m happy Trent is keeping the creative juices flowing, but I really need the new NIN album to be a banger.