If you give a Nine Inch Nails album a cookie, it’ll want a glass of milk. It’s something that every NIN fan will espouse: Trent Reznor’s songs will get stuck in your head if you let them. “Hyperpower!,” the opening track to Year Zero doesn’t disappoint in this regard, nor does it do its name injustice. The one-minute-and-42-second song contains just about every major theme on the album, layered into a catastrophic mess that sounds oddly exquisite. The problem is that those layers, when pulled apart and spread over 16 songs, don’t add up to the chaos and immediacy of that brief sonic explosion. A few tracks succeed, notably “God Given,” which couples its creepy vocal track with a strange call-and-response that is as close to “Closer” as Reznor has come in years. On the other hand, lead single “Survivalism” is explosive but feels derivative of the alt-rock scene Reznor helped shape in the early ’90s, which is indicative of the album as a whole. “Capital G” is an assault on the Bush administration, capped off with some drone-like chanting; it’s a relevant topic for a song, but it feels rather impersonal for Reznor, whose specialty is digging into the inner psyche of his audience. The instrumental “Another Version Of The Truth” really allows the listener to be absorbed by the intricacies of the production and take a break from all the ancillary material; the song’s latter half is remarkably beautiful, mixing a dulcet piano melody over that ominous hum omnipresent in NIN’s work. Reznor seems to eschew depth for surface explosions and instant gratification, and the result is a finished product that, while decent on an individual track, doesn’t hold up as Year Zero progresses.
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