Itâ€™s always interesting to see how musicians evolve, especially in todayâ€™s post-music-label world. As the music wells dry up, it seems that various artists expose their true colors. For every Metallica, who sued individual fans for sharing their music, thereâ€™s a Trent Reznor, who urged Australian fans to steal his music. Cynics may claim that Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead and others who have shunned the record labels are simply positioning themselves as the forebears of new business models.
For me, though, it seems weâ€™ve entered an age of consumer advocacy vis a vis recorded music that in a way has legitimized and revitalized music as a whole. What started with Napster, where millions of fans were able to share unusual, obscure music and tap a literally endless supply of genres and bands has blossomed into what could become the next golden age of music.
Of course, this depends entirely on perspective â€“ if youâ€™re in charge of selling a million copies of Band Xâ€™s heavily hyped album, you silently curse the day P2P sharing was conceived. If, however, you care one iota about music as art or entertainment, these are charmed days indeed. Because, while the idea of millionaire musicians is becoming increasingly antiquated, the publicâ€™s passion for music has piqued in ways inconceivable in the days after Nirvana and before Limewire.
Being corporate behemoths, the record labels have tried to squash the populist music scene as much as possible. For every smart move, like signing The Decemberists or TV on the Radio to major labels, record companies continually damn themselves in the eyes of real fans by pulling contracts from Itunes, suing file sharers, and continually propagating awful music on the radio.
Trent Reznor, for his part, has accrued an enormous amount of good will from his fans â€“ and many who had already written him off â€“ by advocating free downloads of his music, offering royalty free remix fodder from his songs, and engaging in remarkably attuned new ways of promoting his music. The latest is the release of â€œGhosts 1-IVâ€ shows enormous trust on Reznorâ€™s part â€“ not only because itâ€™s a double album being offered practically for free, but also because itâ€™s difficult, lyric free (!) music that would have never emerged from a major label.For me, â€œGhosts I-IVâ€ completes Reznorâ€™s remarkable comeback and transformation. While 2005â€™s â€œWith_Teethâ€ veered dangerously close to self-parody, the brilliant 2007 record â€œYear Zeroâ€ finally saw Reznor singing about the world outside his own mind, and boasted the most spectacular musical production of his already remarkable sonic discography.Â
There are two kinds of Nine Inch Nails fans â€“ those who stick with Reznor because of his anthemic, subtle as an anvil choruses; and those who above all value his enormous skills behind the mixing board. â€œGhostsâ€ is unabashedly an album for the second group, bringing to mind music geek-friendly comparisons to Aphex Twinâ€™s â€œSelected Ambient Works,â€ Brian Enoâ€™s â€œMusic For Airports,â€ and even the hallowed discography of Godspeed! You Black Emporer.
â€œGhostsâ€ is a work of mind-spinning variety, and yet will be familiar to anyone familiar with Reznorâ€™s more obscure compositions for the movie Lost Highway and his extremely underrated EP â€œStill.â€ Mostly a solo record from Reznor â€“ with help from longtime collaborator Atticus Ross, as well as legendary guitarist Adrian Belew and Dresden Dollsâ€™ drummer Brian Viiglione â€“ â€œGhostsâ€ floats from melancholy piano to abrasive electronica to Eastern influenced funk and straight up industrial chaos.
The music on â€œGhostsâ€ is very becoming of Reznor, whose lyrics have essentially gone stale but whose production skills are at their very peak. Not only that, but this album bodes well for his future as a more underground figure â€“ a name that may resonate with music geeks 20 years from now the way that record store owners rhapsodize about David Byrne and Peter Gabriel now. Itâ€™s an exciting time for music, and its nice to see that at least some of the stars from the music industryâ€™s profitÂ -bloated days have evolved to this newer, freer (in every sense) environment.Â