'Year Zero': Trent Reznor's Cold World View

The original industrial rock band, Nine Inch Nails, is back. Creator Trent Reznor has put out a concept album, Year Zero. The CD is an expression of Reznor's view of the world as amoral and doomed.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY and these guys.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: It's Nine Inch Nails. It's the band that put dark, industrial rock on the map and the pop charts, and they're back. In this age of iTunes and the stand-alone song, Nine Inch Nails point-man Trent Reznor has created a kind of an old-school concept album, and it's called "Year Zero."

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Here's DAY TO DAY music critic Christian Bordal.

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: I'm not sure whether to review Trent Reznor's new record for the music or the elaborate concept behind it. I guess I'll try to have to do a little of both because this album comes with a lot of strings attached.

Reznor's industrial touches have always helped conjure dark, dystopian landscape in his songs, but until now, that landscape has been mostly internal, dealing with his own haunted demons and desires.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TRENT REZNOR (Singer, Nine Inch Nails): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

BORDAL: "Year Zero" is a political album. The landscape it describes is a world 15 years in the future, wracked by widespread violence, environmental devastation and moral and spiritual anarchy.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. REZNOR: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

BORDAL: A detailed back-story to the album has slowly been revealed in an elaborate alternate-reality game that has buried clues on tour T-shirts, a series of Web sites, videos, even MP3s found on USB drives hidden in concert-hall bathrooms.

This elaborate promotion has spawned a minor cottage industry of obsessive fans digging for and sharing over the Internet all the clues, music and videos they're discovering. Cynics are calling it a giant marketing strategy, but Reznor says it's all part of the art, that the CD is like a soundtrack to a movie that hasn't yet been made.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. REZNOR: (Singing) Can you hear me now?

(Unintelligible).

You have set something in motion much greater than you've have ever known.

BORDAL: The music on "Year Zero" is some of the strongest Reznor has written since his breakthrough album, "The Downward Spiral," bleak and harsh and full of great, big pop choruses too huge to be crushed by the crashing, buzzing, destruction of sound he and his techno crew wield.

My sense is that Trent Reznor depends a lot on inspiration for his writing. The feelings aroused by an idea have to hit him hard enough to create the emotional juice he uses to conjure his best work, and he clearly seems inspired by the dehumanized, mechanized, amoral world he sees destroying itself in our near future, a future obviously connected to what Reznor sees in the world today -which is what makes this CD a political rather than a personal statement.

But whether or not you want to take the time to investigate the wider, multi-platform promotion surrounding the CD, you'll find that the music itself has a lot to offer.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. REZNOR: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

CHADWICK: The CD is "Year Zero" by Nine Inch Nails. Music Christian Bordal joins us from member station KCRW in Santa Monica, California.

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