#17: Nine Inch Nails – And All That Could Have Been (2002)
It’s easy to dismiss Trent Reznor’s musical output (many indeed do). The shock rock posturings, the degrees of angst and aggression stunted at the level of the teenage outsider. It’s difficult to rate him highly as a lyricist – all too often there’s an adherence to the ungainly and one-dimensional, casting his words as surprisingly shallow when contrasted to the frequent darkness of subject matter – whilst his singing voice is perhaps a little thin and reedy to entirely convince.
And yet, and yet… to simply dismiss NIN as an industrial metal sideshow best left to the awkward and the disaffected is incredible short-sightedness; Reznor exemplifies the musician as highly nuanced awareness. He possesses a particular way with sonic execution that highlights texture above all else, assembling unorthodox slabs of dense, complex sound, employing motifs that act as a form of aural enticement. Hulking beneath the abrasive surface of his songs is a gravity well of influences and inflexions, from the British new-wave electronica of Gary Numan to the tone poems of Claude Debussy; the overall effect is music that’s highly articulate – it’s no coincidence that his ancillary career is as an Oscar-winning soundtrack composer.
‘And All That Could Have Been’ is from an out-of-the-way release call Still, effectively a disc of back catalogue reworkings and unreleased tracks that accompanied a live release (also called And All That Could Have Been, should you have a trip to the record store in mind). It’s an astonishingly atmospheric song. Visual, somehow scenic, as if detailing the monochrome mechanics of a frozen and barren landscape. The beginning is simple, restrained, fragile, a looped guitar riff and a remote vocal. Yet there’s also a relentless quality, something that sweeps the listener up in waves of momentum, of lost love, the instrumentation growing in turns abrasive, then caressing. Something special, in other words; otherworldly and evocative.
Nine Inch Nails / And All That Could Have Been