Nine Inch Nails’ “Ghosts I-IV” and the Future of Music

It’s always interesting to see how musicians evolve, especially in today’s post-music-label world. As the music wells dry up, it seems that various artists expose their true colors. For every Metallica, who sued individual fans for sharing their music, there’s a Trent Reznor, who urged Australian fans to steal his music. Cynics may claim that Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead and others who have shunned the record labels are simply positioning themselves as the forebears of new business models.

For me, though, it seems we’ve entered an age of consumer advocacy vis a vis recorded music that in a way has legitimized and revitalized music as a whole. What started with Napster, where millions of fans were able to share unusual, obscure music and tap a literally endless supply of genres and bands has blossomed into what could become the next golden age of music.

Of course, this depends entirely on perspective – if you’re in charge of selling a million copies of Band X’s heavily hyped album, you silently curse the day P2P sharing was conceived. If, however, you care one iota about music as art or entertainment, these are charmed days indeed. Because, while the idea of millionaire musicians is becoming increasingly antiquated, the public’s passion for music has piqued in ways inconceivable in the days after Nirvana and before Limewire.

Being corporate behemoths, the record labels have tried to squash the populist music scene as much as possible. For every smart move, like signing The Decemberists or TV on the Radio to major labels, record companies continually damn themselves in the eyes of real fans by pulling contracts from Itunes, suing file sharers, and continually propagating awful music on the radio.

Trent Reznor, for his part, has accrued an enormous amount of good will from his fans – and many who had already written him off – by advocating free downloads of his music, offering royalty free remix fodder from his songs, and engaging in remarkably attuned new ways of promoting his music. The latest is the release of “Ghosts 1-IV” shows enormous trust on Reznor’s part – not only because it’s a double album being offered practically for free, but also because it’s difficult, lyric free (!) music that would have never emerged from a major label.

For me, “Ghosts I-IV” completes Reznor’s remarkable comeback and transformation. While 2005’s “With_Teeth” veered dangerously close to self-parody, the brilliant 2007 record “Year Zero” finally saw Reznor singing about the world outside his own mind, and boasted the most spectacular musical production of his already remarkable sonic discography. 

There are two kinds of Nine Inch Nails fans – those who stick with Reznor because of his anthemic, subtle as an anvil choruses; and those who above all value his enormous skills behind the mixing board. “Ghosts” is unabashedly an album for the second group, bringing to mind music geek-friendly comparisons to Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works,” Brian Eno’s “Music For Airports,” and even the hallowed discography of Godspeed! You Black Emporer.

“Ghosts” is a work of mind-spinning variety, and yet will be familiar to anyone familiar with Reznor’s more obscure compositions for the movie Lost Highway and his extremely underrated EP “Still.” Mostly a solo record from Reznor – with help from longtime collaborator Atticus Ross, as well as legendary guitarist Adrian Belew and Dresden Dolls’ drummer Brian Viiglione – “Ghosts” floats from melancholy piano to abrasive electronica to Eastern influenced funk and straight up industrial chaos.

The music on “Ghosts” is very becoming of Reznor, whose lyrics have essentially gone stale but whose production skills are at their very peak. Not only that, but this album bodes well for his future as a more underground figure – a name that may resonate with music geeks 20 years from now the way that record store owners rhapsodize about David Byrne and Peter Gabriel now. It’s an exciting time for music, and its nice to see that at least some of the stars from the music industry’s profit -bloated days have evolved to this newer, freer (in every sense) environment. 

One response on “Nine Inch Nails’ “Ghosts I-IV” and the Future of Music

  1. CoreChaos says:

    An excellent description.

    I thought of Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, and Godspeed, as well.

    I wonder how much artists I like, like Trent, are influenced by what they
    listen to. Like, is it more intrinsic, what they’re making with their music?
    Or is it a reflection of a reflection (ex: Picasso/Dali/Picasso,) and so on.

    Your input box here doesn’t have wordwrap on. And some of the words are cut
    off on the blog on the very left margin. Fyi. Miss ya, Dad!

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