Trent Reznor was one of my favorite musicians as a teenager.
His dark and piercing music expressed a rage and frustration
I felt I could connect with at that point in my life, and
I’m sure most of his early fans would agree. Raw passion
fueled his early work, and throughout his career he honed
his talent and poured his heart and soul into his studio
albums. The quality of his craft- I use the word “craft” on
purpose, describing a work of art made with dedication and
skill- shined brightest in The Downward Spiral and The
Fragile, albums ripe with intricacy and masterful
composition. As Reznor matured and grew up that teenage
angst seeped out of him, and consequentially that same
quality that made his work so enjoyable leaked out as well.
To be fair, Welcome Oblivion is not a Nine Inch Nails album.
Reznor is a band member of How to Destroy Angels, a single
element of the equation rather than the entity entire. That
being said I doubt anyone would care about it if Reznor had
nothing to do with it. From the album’s cover art to the
texture of the music, Reznor’s fingerprints are all over
this album. It exudes aspects of HIS character instead of
being something fresh and unique. To be fair again, the
members of How to Destroy Angels did not set out to make a
quality studio album from the get go. They hung out and
played with instruments to see what would happen and were
pleased enough with how it came out to publish the results,
and there was no big fanfare for its release. (It’s a
similar situation to Radiohead’s King of Limbs: a collection
of so-so songs that didn’t fit anywhere else in their
career, but they released it casually just for kicks.) But I
suspect Welcome Oblivion will still be perceived by most to
be “the new Nine Inch Nails album”, even if subconsciously.
That misconception is reinforced by the album’s soundscapes.
To anyone familiar with Reznor’s music, his signature
sounds and noises will stand out like salt and pepper on an
otherwise bland plate of scrambled eggs. Those mechanical
background pips from the Downward Spiral litter the album,
the mystic and elongated notes from Still and the sadder
songs off of the Fragile are used liberally, and that
crunchy way of adding digital beats from Year Zero is in
full force. Only Welcome Oblivion doesn’t posses anywhere
near the energy and creativity any of these albums do. It
merely scrapes off the top of previous works, grinds the
stuff up, and sprinkles it over its music.
The album doesn’t make up for this lack of audible
originality with its lyrics. Perhaps Reznor is too happily
married to write gripping lyrics anymore, but the songs here
primarily revolve around one line that’s repeated over and
over for a few minutes. It comes off as lazy, especially
because none of the lyrics say anything particularly
interesting or meaningful. I don’t know whether or not
Reznor wrote the lyrics or if he was singing what his wife
wrote along with her from time to time, but his vocal
contributions are very slight and do little to improve the
listening experience. His voice sounds tired and subdued
behind his wife’s breathy vocals.
Despite all this I found myself enjoying Welcome Oblivion.
My hopes and expectations about Reznor’s music is the only
thing that dampens the album for me, but it’s just a
different beast than his earlier work, and it isn’t just
his. That’s important to keep in mind when you listen to
this one. It’s good background music, and with Reznor having
two major film soundtracks recently under his belt this was
the perfect collaborative project for him to jump into at
this stage in his career. The guy wants to make music and he
got with other people who also want to make music. The
result was… music. Listen to it or not. You won’t gain or
miss anything significant either way with this one.