Trent Reznor, the self made god of rage, is facing middle age and seeing the world through far calmer and wearier eyes on the newly released EP, Not The Actual Events. Nine Inch Nails personified the industrial music genre for most of America, with Reznor’s tortured vocals giving voice to the angst of a generation seeding the emo movement that followed. NIN’s formula of layered, clamoring beats, distorted instrumentation and breakneck tempo changes coupled with martyr complex imagery laden lyrics struck a chord in millions of disaffected souls.
Time, as always, dampens the fires of youth, and even the patron saint of furious self loathing has found himself adrift and reflective on his latest release. Having slowly turned to more dark and expansive psychedelic scores on NIN albums, starting around the turn of the century, the music on the Not The Actual Events seems to come from a place of loss.
Listen to the album below, and follow along with our full length review.
“Branches/Bones” has the spacey disco beat and the waves of distortion of instrumental tracks we are used to, but the impetus behind the tracks sounds hollow. The build and release style that so exemplified the sound of most bands in the nineties is still present, but the peaks are far less grand and the valleys somehow less shallow. Gone is the wild abandon as Reznor flatly intones, “Parts of me are slowing down but time is speeding up.” When previous songs seemed to capture the firey pulse of a madman now we seem to be hearing the creaks of a man struggling to rise in the morning to face the day.
On “Dear World,” he drones “I can’t concentrate,” a far cry from the mad focus of previous works. The sudden timing changes that, in the past served as much needed momentary respites from the jackhammer beats, now seem like chances for the artist to catch his breath. The unified hollowness of “She’s Gone Away” is impressive from a songwriting perspective. Based around a open and atmospheric low grade sonic howl, Reznor laments that he “Can’t get the feeling back” before repeating “She’s gone, she’s gone…she’s gone away.”
“Idea Of You” (ft. Dave Grohl) seems to function as an approximation of an early era NIN song. Again the lyrical outlook spells out the conceit of the song, as the listener is asked to “Just go back, go back with me.” As the track unfolds it does seem that the old fires can be stoked when needed, though clearly the embers are weakening. The flames of creation are the focus of the final track on the EP, “Burning Bright (Field Of Fire).” Hiding his voice in echo and distortion has been a staple of Reznor’s work, but on this last track it seems to more embody the fading momentum of life. Dave Navarro also contributes to this last track.
Though many musicians have helped Reznor realize his musical visions over the decades, it was always very clearly his pain and rage we were sharing. That he is also willing to open up about his current failings and fading passions is an impressive choice. The problem lies in the inherent lack of inspiration that comes from making music about losing interest, as it invites listeners to lose interest as well. Not The Actual Events is an unique take on aging from a completely unexpected source. At the bottom of the downward spiral there appears to be nothing but a vast bleak landscape that NIN finds themselves, lost and alone.