It rarely works out when an artist quits one project in order to try a new one. On one hand it’s an opportunity to show a new side to your music; on the other hand you are setting yourself up for being compared to your prior work. Unfortunately, the latter is more likely.
Two of my favorites from my youth, Nine Inch Nails and Pennywise, have recently had members emerge with new projects, and both have failed to live up to what has come before.
How To Destroy Angels
[The Null Corporation, 2010]
When I first heard about Trent Reznor’s side project with his wife How To Destroy Angels, I had high hopes. Since the 1999 release “The Fragile”, Nine Inch Nails have been floating pointlessly from one mediocre album to the next. While “With Teeth”, “Year Zero”, and “Things Fall Apart” have their moments, none of the albums captured the definitive works of art found in “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile”. Instead, they were simply a collection of songs, some good, some not so good. On the last album Trent almost sounded like an imitation of himself – a Nine Inch Nails cover band.
My dreams of a Trent Reznor resurrection of course died upon first listen to How To Destroy Angels first self-titled EP. In a nutshell: it’s a slowed down version of Nine Inch Nails with a female singer. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s all very ho-hum, yawn-inspiring stuff, and at this point, I’ve had enough with this bumbling Reznor. I wanted to hear him stretch his sound, to step outside his confined boundaries, to try something out of his realm. I wanted to hear the Reznor who once blew my mind one song at a time, a machine gun style massacre, blow after blow of incredible compositions attacking my senses. Instead, Trent toes the line with a series of six songs that could easily be B-sides from “With Teeth” and “Year Zero” (or possibly C-sides, if there is such a thing).
I liked this song better when it was called “The Wretched”:
I don’t know how to diagnose Reznor’s issues. Is he so accustomed to his ways of approaching music that he’s no longer capable of traveling into uncharted waters (old dog new tricks theory)? Or is he so crippled by what has made him successful that he fears the thought of rocking the boat (row boat theory)? Or maybe the problem is that my expectations are too high for Trent, that my allegiance to his 90s work has left me with a sour taste in my mouth, wishing he could recapture what I felt while listening to “The Fragile” endlessly in college. Whatever the case, How To Destroy Angels doesn’t destroy any preconceptions of Trent Reznor; it only destroys my hopes for a new day for an aging has-been.
The Black Pacific
[Side One Dummy, 2010]
The opening track to the Black Pacific’s debut self-titled album “The System” is the perfect example of the double-sided affair that is the “follow-up project”. While it is easily the best song on the album, it is also sounds the most like singer Jim Lindberg’s work with Pennywise. It features the same break-neck speed and anti-government sentiment that became a Pennywise staple over the past two decades.
I enjoy this Pennywise rip-off, although I swear the back-up vocals are run through an auto-tuner…you decide:
The following two-tracks continue this Pennywise imitation, which at first annoyed me due to the fact that Lindberg decided to quit Pennywise and now he’s basically playing Pennywise songs with different dudes. Lame. But then of course I heard the rest of the album, and I decided I’d take mock-Pennywise any day over songs like “Kill Your Idols” “Put Down Your Weapons”, and “Defamer”. The second half of the album featueres predictable tunes that conjure up comparisons to Blink 182, Sum 41, and Green Day. As much as I’d love to hear a new take on Jim Lindberg’s approach to punk, I doubt anyone was out there hoping to hear a poppy, overtly processed escapade through shit-town.
Just a toilet paper sampling of this shit:
I don’t know the details of why Jim left, but from what I’ve read, Pennywise plans to continue on without him. After listening to Jim Lindberg’s metaphoric pissing upon everything that is sacred in the creed of Pennywise, I have faith that the boys can start anew with a sound that is far-and-away from anything that can be labeled “pop” (or auto-tuned for that matter).