I think it's safe to say that the industrial revolution has passed everyone by but its founder, Trent Reznor, who seems content to churn out the same album every five years to an increasingly diminished fan base.
There was never really anything like Nine Inch Nails, and both Trent's copycats and colleagues have moved on to other things. Not Reznor, who squirreled away and labored over this disc for six years before unleashing it in 2005. The fans were ecstatic, and those who liked "Closer" were surprised NIN was still around. It was safe to say this one was not greeted with much hype.
It's hard to pinpoint why this isn't as exciting as it should be. Certainly, Reznor has not lost his gift for stomping beats, industrial noise and menacing sound. He still is able to start from nothing and build up to cathartic finales. But that's the problem here -- he can do all this and he does, but nothing more. It's like listening to every other NIN record, and it seems Reznor never really left 1994 or even 1989's Pretty Hate Machine.
There is a bit of a rush in hearing a new NIN disc, though, since nobody ever did it better than Trent, not even Marilyn Manson. "The Hand That Feeds" was a great summer rock song in 2005, one that got played constantly by fans my age who were hoping their band could be cool again. It's one of the quickest, loudest and most strident songs Reznor ever put down, and even though the lyrics are mundane the package as a whole works well.
"Every Day Is Exactly The Same" sounds like a confessional from the notoriously-perfectionistic Reznor, who sings "I used to have a voice / Now I never make a sound / I just do what I've been told / I really don't want them to come around." It could be a parallel to modern-day life and the way in which we sludge to work every day and hope to get through the day, but I don't see Reznor caring that much about his fellow humans. It's part of his appeal, in a weird way.
The biggest surprise here is "Only," which is a freaking INXS song, at least until the verses come in and Reznor speaks his words as a detached observer, which is cool if you're Cake. Yet the song is far more appealing than it should be, mainly because it breaks out of the normal NIN mold.
Many of the songs are solid, if unremarkable, the type that sound great as they play but are instantly forgotten five minutes later. Again, it's not that they are bad songs -- "Right Where It Belongs" is a rather poignant tune and "Sunspots" has a wicked groove -- but the feeling of deja vu is strong throughout.
Had Reznor acted his age (40) instead of living in 1989, this might have sounded different. It's lyrically Reznor's usual fare, and musically it is just as solid as his other discs. But ultimately, it's the kind of disc that will only appeal to fans, who will like these 13 songs very much. Points to Reznor for doing what he does best, but points off for not growing as an artist in the six years he waited to drop this one.