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Blunt Nails: Opinion on the post Fragile Nine Inch Nails

London Docklands July 1st 2000, I stand with crowds of miserable and disconsolate Nine Inch Nails fans (imagine that – miserable Goths?) staring at the band's cancellation notice. The event was The Lost Weekend; NIN had pulled out because their drummer had explosive diarrhea (honest). Even the fact Perfect Circle were playing didn't stop my friends and I from sloping back to Portsmouth, tails firmly between legs (ok so the truth is we ended up drinking with some friends in Chiswick with me wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Too f*cked up to care anymore’ on the front bewildering the locals, but that is another story). Nearly six years later 'With Teeth' is released and a few months after that I'm wedged between an intimate crowd of hero worshipping NIN fans at London's now closed Astoria........ and all is good. In the years that follow I managed to see Trent and the changing band line up a further six times in the UK, but by the time we get to the 'Wave Goodbye Tour's' UK Finale at the O2 my love for the NIN live show and Trent is fast tailing off.

It's pretty important to point out (before I get lynched by a rabid horde of Trent fans) that NIN have been my No1 band for over fifteen years, and what I describe next is a rare and hopefully non-lasting dosage of hero fatigue? The symptoms began when the post Fragile albums (or rather the post drug influenced albums) came out. Don’t get me wrong, these were superb but none could really hold a candle to what had gone before.

The self-biographical lyrical refrain: “Don’t you F*cking know what you are’ ushered in a revitalised and sober Trent Reznor – retaking his throne at the top of the kingdom of dark electronic, industrial rock and metal. At first this second coming was a welcome site, I mean the guy brought himself back from the brink of oblivion and it is pretty amazing he is still alive and making music now (considering his addictions etc). In fact having chosen life and seriously packed some spinach in the old guns (that's muscles Ed), Trent 2.0 was suddenly more prolific musically than at any other time in his career. He released and in some cases gave away a further four albums (plus one remix album). Sure some of the songs were almost as powerful and relevant as anything that had preceded them and most of the lyrics bore all the trademarks of the snarling, provocative genius that bloodied our young ears in the 90s. Yet there was something missing, the lyrics were dark and aggressive but largely reflective, words that came from an altogether different and more political place. This led me to question if (and this is a big IF) Reznor had lost some of his trademark edge? Had the drug addled, broken, f*cked up mojo been diluted by the sober life loving muscle freak style of recent years? Hard to say really.

Certainly from the five shows I saw, the set lists seemed largely stuck mainly in the Fragile, Downward Spiral, Fixed, Broken era – they barely faced forward. Tracks from With Teeth were rare, tracks from Year Zero rarer and only a handful from The Slip were perfomed live..... well in the UK that is. In the US the lucky buggers got an incredible audiovisual show with an interactive screen linked in to a series of tracks from Year Zero. In the UK we got swinging lights and erm..... loads of strobe lights, nothing even comparable to the US Lights in the Sky tour set. Of course Lights in the Sky didn't get to the UK, by the time the recent and final O2 date came up it was renamed 'Wave Goodbye' and the set-list and stage set up was the most predictable and uninspiring ever. Trent was on autopilot, even an unexpected rendition of the Bowie collaboration 'I'm Afraid of American's' didn't really cut it, and as much as I love Gary Numan (or God as he's also known) seeing him come onstage to do Metal and Cars didn't really do much for me, mainly because Trent took no part in those songs vocally. The whole experience felt like great front-man was going through the motions and even noting the fact the good ship Reznor at half-mast still wrecks all other ships out there (where am I going with this rubbish analogy?) I still wanted more.

So I left the corporate confines of the O2 fearing I had seen the last of the band I loved the most, barely satisfied, and bored whitless by a set that asked no questions from a band/man that played the whole thing uncomfortably safe. I genuinely thought I would walk away from my NIN journey having experienced songs such as, Sunspots, The Good Soldier, The Warning, (any of Ghosts) 10 Miles High, to name but a few - I mean surely even Perfect Drug wouldn't have been as difficult as Trent made out it would have been to play? And sadly I realise all to well that they played many of the songs I wanted to hear in other venues across the globe so maybe I am/was just unlucky?

I guess the question I ask most NIN fans is - who do we prefer the Trent of old or the Trent since 2005? I mean would we really like our Amy Winehouse's and Pete Doherty's to be sober and well behaved? Would Oasis still be Oasis if the Gallaghers weren't fighting or the band splitting up every few years? (ok that last one is barely relevant but you get the idea).

Can Trent produce songs of the calbre or Closer and Hurt without a serious amount of issues, heroin and alcohol?

There are plenty of artists out there who have produced incredible music without necessarily having to be f*cked up on drugs, depression and a cocktail of childhood issues. BUT I think that maybe those who do offer up masterpieces from such a mindset (Lou Reed et al) – rarely are able to recreate music of such quality when they have escaped such adversity and stepped out of rehab.

Contradicting the above theory I offer up the fact that Jonathan Davies of Korn based an entire career on lyrics about child abuse and daddy issues, and most people are fairly bored of that by now - so maybe Trent did really need to change and evolve?

If NIN do genuinely wrap it up (as Trent has threatened) then they will always be the most important band of my lifetime, and even if Trent does keep producing music - you know it will still be of the highest quality. But SERIOUSLY that man needs to find his darkness and get angry again, he needs to get his daughter kid-knapped by terrorists, go on a rescue mission, kill all the bad guys, save his daughter then write about it! No-one wants to see him talking about healthy smoothees with that utter pr*ck Zane Lowe on MTV again!

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