Album Review : Nine Inch Nails - Not the Actual Events (2016)
Trent Reznor is a celebrity that always gets shit from the media and fans for speaking his mind at inconvenient times. He recently said that social media were harming music because it leads creators to write formulaic music to please people instead of expressing an inner vision and he's absolutely right. He got shit for that because people felt threatened. He also got shit for claiming he would release new Nine Inch Nails material in 2016 in the second week of December and guess what? Not the Actual Events was released the following Friday, a five songs EP that pretty much shut everybody up. But is it good, though? Nine Inch Nails' project have been few and far between since their masterpiece The Fragile and long-time fans like me were starving for new material, so expectations were high. Not the Actual Events is an enjoyable, uncompromising throwback. It's not quite on par with their best material, but the worst thing about the EP is that it's over before it started.
Let's get into it.
The first song Branches/Bones is under two minutes-long and, interestingly enough, begins with a krautrock riff. It's a straightforward, but energetic song that evolves into a deafening wall of guitar by the first chorus. While Branches/Bones will remind long-time fans of Nine Inch Nails nineties material, there's pop quality to it. The chorus is a little weak for a song about domestic violence, which is the only bad thing I have to say about it. I thought Dear World was slightly more daring with the sparse drums and synth. It reminded me of New Order's less commercial material with Electronic Body Music elements. Trent Reznor delivers the lyrics in a slow, breathy spoken word, which gives the song a life of its own. The vocal delivery and the odd, syncopated beat contrast with one another enough to create a unique and oppressive atmosphere, which is quite an achievement for a song that's almost danceable.
My least favorite song on Not the Actual Events is centerpiece She's Gone Away. There are good elements to it: there guitar feedback used is really cool and Trent Reznor's harmonies really convey the obsessive edge he was going for but it feels extremely busy with lyrics on it. It's the type of song that would've worked better with a more minimalist approach to it. Reznor feels quite eloquent for a broken man. My actual favorite song on Not the Actual Events is The Idea of You, a more traditional industrial rock song with glitchy and distorted vocals. It's short, loud, effecive and will definitely bring you back to Pretty Hate Machine and the Downward Spiral. It's not the deepest song, but it's fun and energetic. Burning Bright (Field on Fire)'s slow, grinding instrumental were really cool. Trent Reznor uses guitars in a very unique fashion in his music. They're noisy, denatured. It would've been my second favorite song on the record if it wasn't again for the weak chorus.
So, I thought Not the Actual Events was very diverse and inspired musically. There isn't two songs that sound alike and yet Trent Reznor was able to channel Nine Inch Nails' anger, anxiety and aesthetics into it. I thought that lyrically, the album was a little weaker and that it undermined Reznor's musical genius here and there. He has a very conventional approach to songwriting for such an unconventional artist and the material sometimes suffered from it. Some songs would've benefited from being more instinctive experiences like She's Gone Away and Burning Bright (Field on Fire), which is a couple details away from being a Nine Inch Nails classic. Ironically enough, the most unconventionally structured song on the record Dear World has probably the most compelling lyrics. Don't get me wrong, the good outweighs the bad here and musically speaking every song is worth getting into. Just don't expect a level of emotional commitment anywehere near The Fragile's.
Not the Actual Events is a good Nine Inch Nails release. Not a great one, but it managed to do what Metallica's new album couldn't: preserve the energy and aesthetic that made the band what it is. It's a very sophisticated EP and maybe the fans won't connect with its variety and different subtleties, but it ultimately shows musical integrity from Trent Reznor. Dude has a vision and a direction for his band and keeps finding the inspiration to create new material. Not the Actual Events probably won't earn Nine Inch Nails any new fans. There's no catchy hit on it. It's introspective and experimental within boundaries. I'm a long-time fan though and I was quite pleased by it. I'm not sure yet there is long-lasting material on it. Perhaps Burning Bright (Field on Fire) has the most staying power to it. Anyway, time will tell. It just felt great to reconnect with old passions, you know?