Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #3

Nine Inch Nails
Ghosts I-IV

Wow. What is there to even say about Trent Reznor's first of two albums released this year, the epic, all-encompassing, utterly overwhelming, instrumental tour-de-fucking-force, Ghosts? Thirty-six nameless tracks over four discs, released online without expectation of a single cent, this Reznor-produced, Alan Moulder engineered work is absolutely the most fantastic thing that has ever been released under the Nine Inch Nails brand. Now take that with a grain of salt, as I am a huge Fragile fan, which many other NIN fans cannot say they are--I loved the wandering, orchestral nature of then-epic double disc album--but if you want to completely engulf yourself in Reznor's work, the coming of Ghosts has answered your prayers in a single, fell swoop.

Ever since Trent got clean, it's like he doesn't know what to do but make mountains of amazing music, so much that he doesn't even care about getting paid for it anymore. He's made his money, now he's just making art for purely art's sake and letting us have a listen in. And I couldn't be happier. I used to wait half a decade or more at a time, for a new NIN release, and now I can expect two or three a year--and not all just the same goth-rock industrial pap rehashed and repackaged. While the last few years have given us great NIN pop albums, from With Teeth to Year Zero and finally to 2008's The Slip, Trent has still been exorcising his more complex musical demons, and on Ghosts he lets himself go completely. Wonderfully so.

Ghosts is hardly even an album, so much as it is a soundtrack to the horror movie that has played in Reznor's head since boyhood. It is frighteningly dark and atmospheric but adventurous and unafraid to go where he has never let himself go before. Along with the brutal guitars and thundering drums, there are pianos and banjos and xylophones, delicately melodic lines played out under the buzz of distortion. He revisits melodies and themes from older albums, especially The Fragile, playing them out as far as he pleases, unrestrained by a pop song's structure or time limit, or a record label's expectations of him. It is disjointed, yes, and completely insane, turning over on itself and turning over on itself again. It is not an easy listen or radio-friendly in the slightest. It is not even his White Album, as I initially wanted to compare it to--there are no catchy pop gems here, just pieces of Reznor himself, spread out before you in song. And there are no lyrics to get in the way, a plus to many of NIN's typical detractors; no cheesy lines about death and dying or empty souls. I've always been a fan of Reznor's lyrics, but without them holding the songs up, his true musicianship is allowed to shine through even stronger.

I have always been amazed by Reznor's work, and I am not disappointed in the slightest with my number three pick in the countdown. It is the most creative, most honest album that he will probably ever make, and if you can get through its almost two-hour long running time, you will surely see what a truly gifted musician the little town of Mercer, Pennsylvania has produced. Even if you don't love every second of it as I have, you will understand what Reznor has been trying to say all of these years, and that is worth the listen alone.

Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts IV - 34

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