Juni 2005


Nine Lives


Autor: Dorian Lynskey




The problem child of electronic rock returns with bulked-up muscles and the same old black temper

Nine Inch Nails

Astoria, London

March 30, 2005


What does it take to make Trent Reznor smile? Some bands who disappear for five year layoffs are forgotten by fans, so the response to Nine Inch Nails‘ London return at the start of a world tour might have even creased his pallid face with a rare grin: Two shows at the intimate, 2,000-capacity hall sold out in just 14 minutes, and one fan sitting next to Blender spent about $600 on a ticket. The venue tonight looks like the casting call for a club scene in The Crow 4. Dress code: any color, so long as it‘s black.

Reznor first arrived here as the glowering poster-boy of industrial rock, promoting 1989‘s Pretty Hate Machine. Now he‘s turned 40. The money he once spent on booze, cocaine and smashed keyboards goes to therapist‘s bills and, by the look of his Vin Diesel biceps, a personal trainer. But encroaching middle age has done nothing to dilute his vast reservoirs of bile or provide him with fresh ways to express it. Sixteen years after he howled “head like a hole, black as your soul“ on the breakthrough single ‘Head Like a Hole,“ his new album, With Teeth, still offers the kind of sullen spite that gets scrawled on notebooks during detention: “Inside your heart it is black and it‘s hollow and it‘s cold.“

Maybe the failure of 1999’s prog opus The Fragile (‘Here‘s my favorite track off the last record that nobody liked,“ he quips, introducing ‘Even Deeper“) muted Reznor‘s desire to experiment. The shifting NIN lineup, which now includes former Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White and hyperactive ex—Icarus Line guitarist Aaron North, wears regulation black, right down to the instruments, and the stage, as always, resembles a strobe-lit dungeon. But his pretty hate machine is beginning to rust.

Reznor makes sonic mountains out of emotional molehills. The mechanized turbo-metal of the 1992 single “Wish“ or the shrieking electro-goth of Pretty Hate Machine‘s “Terrible Lie“ transmute petulance into murderous rage. Closer,“ from NIN‘s 1994 masterpiece The Downward Spiral, couches a wish (threat?) to ‘fuck you like an animal“ in hellish carnality. By comparison, the With Teeth material lacks bite. Only ‘The Hand That Feeds,“ with its New Wave swagger and scissor-sharp hook, draws blood.

If anything encapsulates Reznor‘s quandary, it‘s the hate rock power ballad “Hurt.“ He‘s no longer the anguished twenty something who wrote the song a decade ago, but he also can‘t deliver the gravitas Johnny Cash provided on his heart-rending 2002 cover. Out in the crowd, lighters, cell phones and voices fill the air anyway, but the performance doesn‘t ring true.

The years finally burn away on the obliterating, if premature, finale, “Head Like a Hole.“ North flings his instrument to the floor and stalks off, leaving feedback yowling and at least one guy wondering if 75 minutes without an encore was worth $600.

Dorian Lynskey