Double albums are really tricky; they usually aren’t that successful. There are a few artists out there who have managed to pull it off and while this effort from Trent Reznor comes pretty close, it still has a lot of issues. This is the album that some NIN fans love to death, while others wish it wouldn’t exist and after listening to the whole thing, it’s easy to understand both sides. It does have some strong songwriting from Reznor, but when themes of loneliness, isolation, and depression run over two discs, it gets pretty tiring. There is a point where you want to say enough is enough.
Fans who were expecting more of the same sound and feel from The Downward Spiral were surprised to find that this album strays away from that. The songs aren’t as energetic, brutal, or guitar driven as the ones from their previous effort. Rather, they are really heavy, focus more on ambient noises, and feature a lot of electronic influence, sort of like the one found on his debut. While this move isn’t bad because the songs are well crafted, it’s the way they’re presented that hurts this release. The first disc or “Left” has songs that are all slow, heavy, drudging, and just flat out sad. You expect this from Nine Inch Nails, but there are not many fast paced songs to break it up. Those would be found on disc two or “Right.” I think the album would’ve been more successful if these two types of songs were mixed on one album, rather than being separated this way. The songs on both are good, but after the fifth song with lots of distortion and soft vocals, you kind of want something that wakes you up and keeps the album moving.
Another thing that affects the record are the songs themselves. Like I said, they’re not bad, but there are so many here that not all of them have the ability to stand out on their own. Most of them are not memorable and some even start to run together. The opening track “Somewhat Damaged” is one of the better ones found on the album. It has this great opening build up that begins with a slow, looping bass riff that keeps going while the other instruments slowly creep in and grow progressively louder. With the metallic like sounds found on the track it marks a return to the heavy industrial sound found on their previous album. There’s also a lot of aggression and chaotic energy found here that it gets you pumped for what’s coming next.
This is where things take a depressing and somber turn. If you thought The Downward Spiral was as low as you could get, then this album is when you hit rock bottom. All of the songs deal with elements of depression, isolation, and emptiness to a point where it just gets to you. I’m not sure what was going in Reznor’s life at this point, but whatever it was it had to be pretty dark and he lets out everything here. Songs like “The Day the World Went Away,” “The Frail,” and “The Great Below” are all great tracks. They’re crafted really well and have some great song writing from Reznor. But since the songs are all similar paced and explored the same sad themes, it’s hard for them to stand out from one another. Also, you have to be in the mood to get through these tracks. Since they come barreling at you, one after another, it can wear you out. Some of the faster paced songs found on the second disc should’ve been included to break up the moodiness of the record. What’s also different here is there are a lot of instrumental tracks. While they are good at keeping the vibe of the album there are times where you just want to skip it. It’s not something you would listen to on a regular basis.
As I mentioned, the songs on the second disc are a bit more upbeat than the ones found on the first one. “Into the Void” has this cool sounding riff that jumps and dances around the track. It’s a stand out riff that finally gets you moving thanks to its cool groove. And with the simple chorus of “Tried to save myself, but myself keeps slipping away” it’s pretty catchy. “Starfuckers” is another great track, but my gripe with it is it doesn’t fit the album at all. Apparently, it was intended for a b-side, but put on the album at the last minute and really, it works better as a b-side. Aside from that, it’s an energetic, brutal track with a more electronic sound that even spreads to the vocals. It sounds really cool overall and you gotta love the backing vocals from Marilyn Manson. What I find interesting about this is there’s a reference to the Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain,” which Manson would cover later on in his career.
Overall, the album gets 8/10. It’s not the greatest NIN record, but it is the boldest and it still is a good album. But with so many depressing songs it’s something you either have to take in short bursts or you have to be in a specific mood to get through the whole thing. Also, the amount of songs makes it hard for each and every one to stand out; a lot of them begin running together after a while. But there are still enough great songs on here to at least give it a listen all the way through at least once.