Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts (2008)

Trent Reznor said: “I’ve been considering and wanting to make this kind of record for years, but by its very nature it wouldn’t have made sense until this point. This collection of music is the result of working from a very visual perspective – dressing imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture; a soundtrack for daydreams. I’m very pleased with the result and the ability to present it directly to you without interference. I hope you enjoy the first four volumes of Ghosts.”  I can’t presume to write a better introduction, especially since I completely agree with the man.

Continuing a certain trend I’ve been feeling lately, I chose to write about music which helps me focus, acting as a purifying agent on my mind. Ghosts is the kind of album which gives my thoughts fluidity, ease of use, as it were, acting like a sort of lubricant, in the mechanical, aseptic, scientific sense. I listen to this music and cold neon lights flicker on in my mind. It’s a cold album, it constantly feels far removed, as if the music were coming from a different room, on the other side of the building, just through echoes and vibrations in the walls. The title of it is completely appropriate from this point of view.

I’ve spent many sleepless nights working, staying focused and efficient through the grace of this music, but that doesn’t mean I think of it as a tool to be used. What Trent Reznor says about the album having a very visual basis is completely transparent. This music feels like architecture, it’s spacial rather than spacious, it seems as if every song has a very specific area where it belongs, whose edges and limitations also define the sounds. Parking lot at night, deserted bus stop, deserted bus, for that matter, save for one passenger, hospital corridor, one’s own room, at the break of dawn, an empty swimming pool… these are images which not only populate the music, but structure it, permeate it, in staggering diversity, which, considering  it’s a collection of 36 instrumental songs, is quite an achievement.

The truly engaging thing is that not all of these spaces are deserted. This music takes into account human presence, the clutter and chaos of groups of people thrashing around any given space, while consistently maintaining a certain detachment, a “fly on the wall” perspective, as if the buildings and spaces themselves have a completely autonomous sound structure of their own, and the humans populating them act like white noise, like static on a screen. Like I said, aseptic music, as if its different components and levels of expression somehow managed to superimpose themselves without ever actually touching.

One of the more technical details about this album, which I simply can’t avoid mentioning, is the contribution Adrian Belew had in its conception and production. Adrian Belew is the “rhythm guitarist” and vocalist in King Crimson and has fulfilled this role since the ’80s, having previously worked with Frank Zappa. He’s one of the most creative players I have ever heard, providing a much needed supplement of passion and irrationality to Robert Fripp’s exceptionally structured musical thinking and he seems to be acting like such an influence in this context as well. The most furious guitar parts are his, the chaos, the frustration, the dynamic aspect of this music stems forth from him, and I doubt Ghosts would’ve felt so layered and so lush without his influence. So, a definite and long overdue tip of the hat to Adrian Belew, the only player I’ve ever seen to bend the guitar neck instead of using a tremolo (made me cringe and shout out at the same time).

Coming from someone who doesn’t generally “dig” Nine Inch Nails, Ghosts is an amazing album. Whenever I listen to their previous releases I feel there was always a kernel in that music which could’ve been something much more engaging for me, had it not been for all the rest, which I perceived as a sort of subservience to concepts and themes which seem rather barren to me. Again, Reznor is right on the mark in the description of Ghosts, as the album captures a sense of culmination, as if, after twenty-odd years of making music, there was finally enough experience and material to reach this sort of essence. Industrial rock, be it about the alienation and automation of humans being or otherwise, is a very visual genre, very evocative, and Ghosts finally lets all the extra weight fall away and focuses on that, captures that defining element which makes the genre viable and spectacular.

It’s hard to pick just two tracks from such a large collection, but in the end it isn’t even that important. This is one of those albums which require start-to-finish listening sessions. Enjoy!

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