What Have You Done For Us Lately, Trent Reznor?

Or rather, a primer to Reznor's projects during his four-year NIN hiatus
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Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails at Made in America 2013

(Maria Ives for Radio.com)

In What Have You Done For Us Lately? we examine the recent output by legendary artists. Yeah, we’re happy when they return with a new album… but really, just how happy are we? We’ll gauge their recent output (in this case, the highlights of Trent Reznor’s career since temporarily retiring Nine Inch Nails in 2009), take a hard look and see how it has held up… and maybe help you to find a few gems that you overlooked.

This week Trent Reznor releases Hesitation Marks, the first new Nine Inch Nails album since 2008′s The Slip — and since Reznor announced that it was “time to make NIN disappear for a while” in order to focus on other projects. Reznor’s indeed kept busy with some high-profile projects, as well as some more under the radar. In fact, he released a few NIN tracks you may have missed while you were distracted by his Oscar.

Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s Addiction – NIN|JA Sampler - (2009)

Nine Inch Nails Janes Addiction NINJA EP

Nine Inch Nails Janes Addiction NINJA EP

Featuring two new songs, this EP gave Trent a little new material to play on Nine Inch Nails’ 2009 Wave Goodbye Tour. “Not So Pretty Now” and “Non-Entity” showed that he still had a good amount of venom in him. Trent also sat in the producer’s chair for the Jane’s Addiction tracks: studio versions of songs that originally appeared on their 1987 self titled debut, which had been recorded live, “Chip Away” and “Whores.” This marked Jane’s only reunion with original bassist Eric Avery (who was recently announced as NIN’s touring bassist before swiftly exiting the band before the first show). It’s too bad that all parties involved couldn’t keep it together: Trent producing the original Jane’s was a potent mixture of talent, as evidenced here.

“Tetsuo The Bullet Man Theme” - 2009 

A lesser-known gem from the NIN catalog, this very industrial-flavored instrumental is as abrasive as anything in their canon. Recorded for the 2009 film Tetsuo: The Bullet Man, the third film in Shinya Tsukamoto’s cyberpunk film series.

How To Destroy Angels - How To Destroy Angels EP - 2010

How To Destroy Angels

Trent’s creative rebirth came with his new band, How To Destroy Angels, featuring his wife Mariqueen Maandiq on vocals (of the band West Indian Girl), future soundtrack collaborator Atticus Ross, and Rob Sheridan, who worked with Reznor on Nine Inch Nails visuals (their web site, videos and album artwork). Reznor seemed liberated by not having to write for his own voice with his new band. On the other hand, many of lyrics sounded so Trent, it was hard not to imagine him singing them.

The Social Network Soundtrack - 2010 

The Social Network soundtrack

Back in the ’90s, it would have been hard to imagine Trent Reznor as an Oscar-winning, film-scoring kind of guy. On the other hand, he’s always been good at creating soundscapes for movies, producing soundtracks for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994 ) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). For the score to David Fincher’s The Social Network, Reznor and Atticus Ross provided the film with an extra sense of dread and edge; in that sense, the score was practically its own character. The fascinating but cold electronics seemed like a musical translation of Mark Zuckerberg’s personality.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack - 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo SoundtrackThose who feel that Reznor should consider giving up on leading bands and instead try producing other artists may feel that way because of Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which opened Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo adaptation.

And, yes, it turns out that Trent is a great producer (see also: Zack de la Rocha’s 2004 Reznor-produced “We Want It All”). But don’t let that one song distract you from the rest of this soundtrack. It felt like this was the perfect film for him. However, the film, though big budget and hotly anticipated, wasn’t the runaway hit of The Social Network, and thus, the soundtrack didn’t quite live up to the high praise of Reznor’s first Fincher collab. Still, Trent has said he’ll score the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, should Fincher direct it. 

Nine Inch Nails – “Zoo Station” Cover – 2011 

Another rarely-heard NIN gem was this cover of the U2′s “Zoo Station,” the lead song from U2′s NIN-inspired 1991 classic Achtung, Baby. Trent recorded this cover under the NIN moniker for AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered, a tribute album also including Garbage, Depeche Mode and Jack White. Though the song first showed the world U2′s rebirth decades ago, it also seemed to fit Reznor: “I’m ready for what’s next… I’m ready to say, I’m glad to be alive.” Now a family man, Reznor is slowing growing out of being all-angst, all the time.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II Theme - 2012 

If you’re not a gamer or Trent diehard, you may not have heard this one. As usual, Trent brings the dread on this cinematic soundscape.

How To Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion - 2013 

How To Destroy Angels Welcome Oblivion

On their debut full-length, How To Destroy Angels begin to hit their stride. Maandiq now sounds like she’s singing her own lyrics instead of Reznor’s. They kicked off their first tour, stressing the point that they are their own band by playing no NIN songs. The announcement that Reznor was re-activating NIN was somewhat surprising since he seemed to be fully enjoying his new band; however, the fact that fans can see him play Nine Inch Nails songs probably gives HTDA space to be themselves. You could say that they are the A Perfect Circle to NIN’s Tool, but the distance between the two is even further than that. Take their song, “How Long.” It’s not close to NIN.

Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Trent Reznor – “Mantra” – 2013 

Out of all of Dave Grohl’s superstar combos on his Sound City soundtrack, this one seems the most likely to turn into his next supergroup. Grohl has played drums on records for both Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age, and these guys make cool, and moody noise together. It’s fun to watch Trent playing as a band member instead of the boss.  At the very least, he may want to include Dave and Josh in his next soundtrack project.

THE VERDICT
Reznor probably picked the right time to put NIN to rest. He’d been putting out albums and touring at a furious pace through the mid-2000s. He now returns to his flagship as an Oscar-winning composer and the de facto leader (though not the singer) of another up-and-coming band. Whether or not NIN fits in with popular music circa 2013 (read our reviews of their performances at Made In America and Lollapalooza) is another story, but Reznor has never been about fitting in anyway. His true north has always been David Bowie, who, at his best, challenged the mainstream, occasionally penetrated it and constantly evolved. Reznor has has hit the pop culture bullseye twice: in the mid-’90s with The Downward Spiral (and it’s most unlikely hit, “Closer”), and more recently with his Oscar victory. As for producing other acts? Yeah, we’d love to see that, too, but it can wait. Reznor still has a lot of music to offer, whether or not it fits in with the zeitgeist is beside the point.

- Brian Ives, Radio.com

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