Just over a year ago, when U2 was in danger of losing its constituency, the group returned to its roots with All That You Can't Leave Behind, and -- voilà! -- the pop-music world responded with a spate of ring-kissing that still has cash registers chiming. Today the lads have a new remix disc being sold exclusively in Target stores (thank goodness they dodged the Kmart bullet), and Bono is the Jesus of the Super Bowl and Grammy night. Hello, America, how are ya?
Whether Trent Reznor can pull off the same stunt is uncertain, but he's sure giving it his best shot: Everything from his new live album's you-too-can-be-U2 title to the ultraconservative nature of its song selection screams, "We're still the band you want us to be!" The disc was culled from shows staged during 2000, when Nine Inch Nails was promoting The Fragile, a double CD intended to cement Reznor's place in the pantheon of rock geniuses. But only six of the 16 tunes included on the main set hail from that package, and the others are dominated by what pass for hits in the Nails canon: "Head Like a Hole," "Closer" and so on. A rendition of Pigface's "Suck" is the nearest thing to a surprise, but it's a lot less jarring than would be, say, Trent covering Joan Osborne. (Betcha he could do wonders with a line like "What if God was one of us...") In addition, the arrangements of the older songs are seldom reimagined in a substantial way. For the most part, Reznor and his cohorts of the moment pound out the notes as they were pounded previously. Change is good, but only when it's jingling in your pocket.
Granted, the selections on disc two of this recording's so-called deluxe edition are a tad more adventurous. But fans must pay extra for the privilege of hearing them, unless they find the songs floating around on the Internet somewhere. (Take that, music industry.) And even consumers with fewer shekels will find some value here. Although much of Reznor's music is machine-driven, he's found a way to make it work on stage, as the latest versions of "Terrible Lie," "March of the Pigs" and "Starfuckers, Inc." demonstrate. Plus, his trademark dourness is a nice antidote to the upbeat sincerity dominating the charts. "Hey, motherfucking pig! There's a lot of things that I hope you could help me understand!" (from The Downward Spiral's "Piggy") may not be sincere in an Oprah sort of way, but it feels good anyhow.
In the end, though, And All That Could Have Been isn't all that it could have been. Which is probably what Reznor intended all along.