Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Nine Inch Nails

  • Broken [Halo Five, 1992] Neither
  • The Downward Spiral [Nothing/TVT/Interscope, 1994] **
  • The Fragile [Nothing, 1999] B
  • With Teeth [Nothing, 2005] *
  • Year Zero [Nothing, 2007] A-
  • Ghosts I-IV [The Null Corporation, 2008] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Broken [Halo Five, 1992] Neither

The Downward Spiral [Nothing/TVT/Interscope, 1994]
musically, Hieronymus Bosch as postindustrial atheist; lyrically, Transformers as kiddie porn ("Heresy," "Reptile") **

The Fragile [Nothing, 1999]
After six fucking years, genius-by-acclamation Trent Reznor delivers double-hoohah, every second remixed till it glistens like broken glass on a prison wall. Is the way he takes his petty pain out on the world a little, er, immature for a guy who's pushing 35? Never mind, I'm told--just immerse in the music. So I do. "Dream job: emperor," it says. "More fun than death by injection." B

With Teeth [Nothing, 2005]
All pretense of deeper meaning worn into shtick, he's left with the aggro mood music that was always his calling ("Getting Smaller," "With Teeth"). *

Year Zero [Nothing, 2007]
No matter how clichéd Trent Reznor's dystopian fantasies may be--and they have their moments, like the rebels who conquer by crawling and the anti-Bush anthem rendered juicier by its deliberate inconsistencies--it has the virtue of getting him out of himself. And though he may warn of the noise here, it's all just modern music, whooshing and phasing hookily hither and yon. Is it a coincidence that he created his most songful album just when he stopped obsessing on his own dubious agony? Nah--it's fate. A-

Ghosts I-IV [The Null Corporation, 2008]
Two hours of electronic instrumentals by the ranking genius of studio S&M? Despite respectful reviews, I shied away, only to be put off when I finally approached by a deliberate piano intro that turns out to be its most annoying moment. Finer minds than mine may find these pieces worthy of continuous attention. I say they're background music, there waiting when your mind drifts speakerward, just distracting enough to change up your mood in a useful way. Moved to revisit Brian Eno's Discreet Music, I can attest that when I need mental wallpaper, I'll take Trent's. But I don't need mental wallpaper all that much. A-