SHOCKER: Nine Inch Nails now classic rock!

Trent Reznor Nine Inch Nails NIN GigCity EdmontonHere’s a big rock ‘n’ roll anniversary that went unremarked: Nine Inch Nails is 25 years old this year!

Where is the Grand Quadrancentennial Celebration, the Silver Jubilee all-star tribute concert featuring Jay-Z and Eddie Vedder, the Cameron Crowe documentary “NIN100/4”?

Here’s the real shocker: returning to Rexall Place on Sunday, Nov. 24 on the “Tension Tour,” Nine Inch Nails can now be considered “classic rock.” Doesn’t that make you feel better? Maybe you don’t feel anything at all. Every day is exactly the same, after all.

The creative contrarian Trent Reznor has never been one for anniversaries. He marked NIN’s 20th by releasing a pair of weird instrumental albums he gave away for free over the Internet, and then announced a hiatus, “I’ve been thinking for some time now it’s time to make NIN disappear for a while.” There was sadness, then acceptance. After all, the fans said, NIN had a good run.

A prank Reznor pulled on April 1, 2009 may hold some clues why he decided to take a break from the famously depressing industrial rock band that defined him for more than two decades. He announced he was releasing a new album that would contain duets with people like Justin Timberlake, Bono and Sheryl Crow, with songs like Black T-Shirt, Coffin on the Dancefloor and This Rhythm is Infected, the titles alone revealing a healthy dose of humour and self-awareness. It’s hard for middle aged rock stars to maintain a constant aura of menace without turning into a self-parody. Some actively embrace it.

The record was bogus, of course, but believable enough to moot the April Fool. Reznor actually did a version of a U2 song on a tribute album. Anyone trying something similar should remember that in the modern age that whatever crazy idea is suggested there will be somebody somewhere crazy enough to do it. In short, don’t give them ideas.

During the time off, Reznor worked on side projects, soundtracks, won an Oscar for his score of The Social Network, did some video game music. Then with typical mystery and little fanfare, he suddenly announced a NIN comeback. No joke. The band – Reznor with a freshened line-up – returned with the new album this year, Hesitation Marks, and the single therein, Came Back Haunted, that sounds an awful lot like a lot of other Nine Inch Nails songs. The lyrics are just as telling, however: “I said goodbye, but I had to try, I came back, I came back haunted.”

Hesitation Marks Trent Reznor Nine Inch Nails NIN GigCity EdmontonNo mention of a special 25 Year Retrospective Box Set.

It must also be mentioned that Reznor and Nine Inch Nails are now officially eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which happens to be located in Reznor’s hometown of Cleveland). Seems like a no-brainer given what they’ve nominated for 2014: Cat Stevens, KISS and LL Cool J?!

NIN’s contribution to rock ‘n’ roll cannot be overstated. Reznor is one of the pioneers of so called “industrial rock.” As his gothic, gritty sound helped shape the nexus between rock and electronic music, he heaped dark commentary and satire on an entire generation – teeing off on the stereotyped mood of “Generation-X” as being a bunch of whiners. Memorable milestones like March of the Pigs, The Day the World Went Away, the Hand That Feeds and Every Day Is Exactly the Same reek of tuneful nihilism, expressing a litany of strong emotions – fear, dread, despair, hate, self-loathing, primal lust – while maintaining both the distinctive “NIN sound” and a keen sense of melody. That’s the trick. There’s little point in being all dark and grumpy if you don’t hear a single. And even if the brooding electro-rock ghoul thing is all an act – his struggle with drug addiction is no act, of course – it’s managed to hold fans’ attention for 25 years. What’s clear is how the father of two maintains his rebel status: Doesn’t care about classic rock labels, about marking anniversaries, about striving to keep commercial radio presence. It’s all about the music.

Basic CMYKAnd awards? Reznor was asked the Hall of Fame question directly in a recent Rolling Stone interview. It’s worth repeating his answer at length:

“I feel neutral about it. It just seems so freaky. Being honest with you, the Oscar experience changed me. I’ve won Grammys in the past and it always felt like they didn’t mean anything. I got them for stupid fucking things like Best Metal Performance. If I’d won something I actually care about, like Best Packaging, that would’ve made me thought someone with taste was involved in the process … getting a glimpse into the film world as opposed to the music world, I was immediately impressed by how much more they care about things. It felt like it had some weight to it, and I was flattered. Then I thought, ‘Am I just being an asshole about the Grammys?’ I don’t spend all day allowing myself to feel good about anything, generally. Once in a while, it’s okay to pause and say, I felt like I did a good job and people agree, so that was nice.”

Spoken like a true artist who’s struck a comfortable balance between art and entertainment.

(Tour photos by Rob Sheridan)