The Hang of Music: Trent Reznor’s “God Given Lack-of-Belief”

I couldn’t resist the reference when I saw that there was song titled “God Given” on this, Nine Inch Nails’ album “Year Zero”.

Note – Today I am changing my process! Today is the day that I try something new! Today is the first day of the rest of my life! Today, instead of playing Spider Solitaire when I listen to these albums, like usual, I am playing Minesweeper. Truly, I know how to live.

About two tracks in, and I was already feeling uneasy about this album.

Not because it sounded bad, mind. Or odd or far too industrial. No, I was weirded out because of how damn approachable it sounded. When I come to Trent Reznor I expect to have to work hard to enjoy his music, damnit! Yet here I am, just on the face of it enjoying Year Zero!

“The Beginning of the End” is a prime example of this. When I first listened to “Hurt”, I couldn’t hear the tune at all: It was just barely more than noise until listen number 3. “Beginning of the End”, though, I liked right away. I almost feel cheated! Same with “Survivalism”. The synths have a clear riff, the drums have a beat, it’s almost danceable! I can see why this was the lead single.

Before you ask, no I am not some weirdo hipster* who insists everything be unlistenable. This is just a surprising lack of a common feature; “The Downward Spiral” was almost painful on my ears at first. “Year Zero” does settle down after a while into something a bit more tricky, but the first few tracks were a pleasant interlude, most certainly. By “Vessel”, however, we’re back into familiar territory.

The singing on “Survivalism” reminds me a little of Gang of Four. Though that could be because I was listening to a bit of “A Brief History of the Twentieth Century” earlier. But with the political message, the coherent rage, the slightly-off-kilter arrangements, I definitely think there’s a comparison to be made.

Oh, and the obsession with sex as a metaphor for the state of politics. Don’t agree? Just put it this way; Year Zero contains references to being on your hands and knees in not just one, but three songs at least (“Beginning of the End”, “My Violent Heart” and “Capital G”). Methinks your fetish is showing, mein freund.

I was sort of nodding off at one point, during “Capital G”. (Though that’s not necessarily the album’s fault.) And I could swear I heard a woman screaming on the track… OK, on second listen, there’s less of this than I thought. But a lot more of something that I don’t see enough of in music today. It’s less pathetically amiss than I thought a year or so ago, but I figure that that’s because I’m looking hard in the right places.

What I’m talking about is real content and even, in this case, discussion of ideas in lyrics.

I feel like one of my most common complaints when writing these reviews is about the banal and dull lyrics of songs. Or commending the lyrics for not being banal and pointless – instead, being important and crucial to the song. Somehow I don’t think I need to worry about that with Trent Reznor. In fact, not only do I not need to worry about the purpose of the lyrics, I don’t even think I need to worry about the content of the lyrics. Most of his songs seem to be rants against religion, the west and the worse aspects of modern culture. A bunch of big old checkboxes there.

In a similar vein, I’ve realised that sometimes, some words are just too awesome to not get an honourable mention when someone actually manages to fit them into a song. With some lyrics, this is a superhuman feat, and deserves recognition. So, I hereby introduce the list of Great Words To Hear In A Song, or GWTHIAS.**

Off to a good start!

And Volume 1 of GWTHIAS starts here:

Revisionism – Used in the song “Survivalism” to specifically refer to the Historical Revisionism of Far Right Groups. It’s easy to trash talk the old regime when you have power of the hearts and minds of your people, after all. Just look at holocaust-deniers.

Do you notice how, in my discussion up there, I totally failed to mention that almost the entirety of the lyrical discussion and dissection was the dissection of the idea of religion? Well I said it now. I thought it was awesome; others might not. So if you’re someone who thinks that skepticism is a fine thing, but it should be kept away from our music,*** then this probably isn’t the album for you.

Also, if you’re lazy, and like cheap, easy pop songs that you can guzzle like popcorn – not for you. You should expect that, though – this is industrial metal after all.

But if you like rational thought, and you like good tunes, and industrial metal and atheism don’t put you off, this is (one of the many) album(s) for you. Listen to it.


Review 38 – done! So you know what that means! Yes, next week’s review is some tredecimal goodness! As review #13 in this set, it is the final track/review, and I’ve got something pretty interesting breing to celebrate. See you then!

The Great Destroyer sounds a lot like… Wait, DANCE MUSIC? GET IT AWAY!

* Well, I probably am, but not in this respect. I think.

** Incidentally, “Gwythias” sounds like an elf in LOTR. And I would also love to hear it used in a song.

*** Or our gods, for that matter – like it corrodes them and wears them away like some kind of “acid for omnipotence”. Or kryptonite. Man, good sense would be an awful weakness for a superhero!


Posted on March 17, 2012, in Atheism & Skepticism, Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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