Trent Reznor, the one-man angst factory behind (and in front of) Nine Inch Nails, has gained widespread critical praise for introducing the confessional "I" to industrial/ dance production, which I suppose makes him something of a modern-day noise folkie in fishnets. Which isn't to say that you should cancel your Miller Outdoor Theater Kerrville Preview plans to catch his show. Reznor's body of work -- Pretty Hate Machine, the Broken EP and the new The Downward Spiral -- is neither contemplative nor soothing in the trad folkie sense, and to cut to the chase, it's about as much fun to listen to as a cat caught in a fan belt.
But it is interesting, at least the first time around. Reznor's production work is state of the art, and the layering that takes the place of songwriting on The Downward Spiral might be seen by some as justifying the effort that goes into decoding it. Complex rhythms open up hallucinatory vistas and then slam them shut, occasionally leaving a tiny hole for the vocals to rasp through. The volume level fluctuates wildly, which is supposed to be either an innovation in dynamics or a foil to home tapers. Good luck setting your recording levels on this one.
Jackhammer rhythms and white-noise experiments will be small consolation, though, to the uninitiated sap who steps through the doors looking for musical relief. Reznor can't sing worth a shit, and if his emotional range veers from a tiresome preoccupation with killing, fucking, hating and picking scabs, you won't hear it on the albums. What Reznor does do, and does well, is take those themes and pound them into your head with an unequaled sonic power that's hard to shake off. And, as the wise man once said, when all you've got is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.
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Nine Inch Nails play Wednesday, May 4 at the International Ballroom, 14035 Main. Marilyn Manson opens. Doors open at 7 p.m. $20. Call 629-3700 for more info.
* Delbert McClinton at FridayFest, Old Market Square, Friday, April 29
* Jerry Jeff Walker at Bayou City Theatre, Friday, April 29
* NRBQ with the Sun Ra Horns at Rockefeller's, Friday, April 29
* Eazy-E with K.O. Kane at Club Northside, Friday, April 29
* Buck Pets at Harvey's, Saturday, April 30
* Gwar at the Abyss, Sunday, May 1