Unlike the first couple decades of Nine Inch Nails — an emo-as-hell era that kept its laser-like focus locked on the skin-pricking peaks and valleys of one troubled soul, Trent Reznor — Year Zero favors more of an agitpop approach. From its Question Everything lyrics to the alternate reality game that accompanied its ambitious publicity campaign, this is Nine Inch Nails trying to be Gibson- and Dick-schooled cyberpunks, right down to rumors of a related film or TV project that never quite materialized. That’d be a bummer if the tracks didn’t hold up, but the laptop-led roots of this record helped it achieve Reznor’s ultimate goal: applying the splatter-paint samples and woofer-wrecking bass lines of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad to his own highly stylized vision of what the world will be like in 2022 — in two words, “utterly fucked.” If every NIN album before this left you worried about Reznor’s well-being, this one directs that concern back at all of us.
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