Alex: If you're the kind of person who reads music blogs on the regular, you've probably already heard that Nine Inch Nails have taken the ARG route with the promotion of their new concept album Year Zero. For those unfamiliar with the term, ARG stands for 'Alternate Reality Game', a kind of interactive narrative which rather than being presented as a whole is pieced together using real world resources i.e. websites, phone numbers and printed materials. In this case numerous websites (a comprehensive listing of which is currently available at Year Zero's Wikipedia page) have been found via clues in new NIN merchandise, which in concert with one another build up a pseudo-dystopian world that serves as a backdrop for the record's concept. Additionally, fans can call 310-295-1040 to hear a short message and clip of a new NIN song which serve to further flesh out the near-future setting. Even cooler, a spectogram analysis of the last few seconds of the leaked song 'My Violent Heart' shows 'The Presence' a hand like image(pictured above) referenced on iamtryingtobelieve.com and other websites.
What's most interesting to me about Year Zero as presented is that it suggests an enormous thematic departure from the standard angst-to-anguish spectrum that has been de rigeur for Trent since Pretty Hate Machine. Even a casual perusal of the near-future world suggested in the various Year Zero websites would seem to indicate that the overriding themes of the work are paranoia and disillusionment. Couched though it may be in the clothes of speculative fiction, the idea of despondency in the face of neo-conservative/religious zealotry, the continuing erosion of personal freedoms and a runaway military industrial complex doesn't sound all that far-fetched to me. Frankly, as much as I generally feel topical songwriting runs a high risk of smug sanctimony, I can’t think of any subjects that are much more relevant or deserving of artistic discourse in our current political climate. This persavive atmosphere of distrust and doubt is an incredibly fertile creative ground to sew, certainly more than the increasingly unconvincing adolescent turmoil Trent was still leaning on as recently as With Teeth. That's right: Trent Reznor has made the switch to a pundit cum prophet of post-millenial tension. I never thought I'd see the day either.