Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kittens And Sunshine

"Hi. My name is Mike, and I'm a 27-year-old man."

The group responds collectively, "Hi, Mike."

"... I'm a 27-year-old man, and I like Nine Inch Nails."

(smattering of applause)


See, I liked Nine Inch Nails in high school. Of course I did. It was the mid-to-late 90's, I was confused, and when I wasn't thrashing away at some punk tune, I was wallowing in that whole angst thing. We all did it in one form or another.

Once I got to college, NIN seemed like a rather distant memory. What was once cathartic seemed silly and overwrought. To put the dating in perspective, when I was in middle school, I bought The Downward Spiral, when I was in high school, I picked up The Fragile, and the next one came out after I graduated college. I didn't buy it. I was an adult, ready for adult things. Goth-y industrual pop for eyelinered post-adolescents was a thing of the past.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. - The Bible

But then things started to turn. I read about the alternate reality game that Trent Reznor used to market Year Zero, and it seemed really neat and creative. I followed the blogosphere's coverage of Reznor's one man war against the Big Label Machine. It all seemed cool, post-millennial, and ethically/morally right, as someone to the left of the Big Label Debate. But what about the music? I'd heard tracks from the first '00s NIN album (With Teeth), and they were OK, but squarely in the "heavy modern rock" category. Meh. I worked in a record store and at a place that manufactured CDs, and the heat-sensitive discface to Year Zero was awesome, but I didn't really listen to it. I picked up a promo copy of Ghosts I-IV becuase it was free and I like ambient records; it was good for a few background listens, then it went on the shelf.

So what changed? I gave up. I needed something new and aggressive and electronic-tinged and modern. Reznor's seemed to be loosening up in the past few years, with his April Fool's Day 2009 joke coming across with some serious hilarity (the Kanye-baiting cover, the tracklisting, the producer... comedy gold). I downloaded the free-to-the-world album, The Slip, and it was great. Cool, heavy, angry, intricate... a wonderful album, made all the better by the distribution method and the intent with which it was made. Distanced from the brilliant marketing, Year Zero is probably even better, I'm just totally over the whole concept album thing, so The Slip's concise songs-as-songs mentality appeals to me just a bit more.

The irony of something so resolutely in my angsty youth blossoming into one of the more interesting, most mature sources of music in modern popular rock is not lost on me. While Reznor hasn't been one of my favorite lyricists (he still treads in cliched darkness more than I'd like), the fact that it's forward-thinking rock made for an intelligent audience is fascinating to me. Especially since (with a few exceptions) most of the Nine Inch Nails fans I know in 2009 are people I'd rather not know. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of his potential audience feels like I did, with their (completely valid) preconceptions of NIN keeping them away from music they'd most likely enjoy.

So let's hear it for Trent Reznor. Congrats on getting sober a few years back, congrats on using that experience to allow yourself to move beyond moody platitudes, congrats on fighting the good fight against the corporate monster, and congrats on managing to be commerically viable while fiercely maintaining your own independence.

Please don't screw it all up now.

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