Nine Inch Nails Year Zero

Lurking beneath Trent Reznor’s black leather and PVC-wrapped shell beats the heart of a pop star, not the black soul of the goth rock icon many believe he is. Listening through the layers of white noise on Year Zero, it becomes clear that Reznor is a guy who writes inherently simple songs and dresses them up in nihilistic robes and black eyeliner, then parades them in front of the disengaged masses to gobble up as the gospel for a society on the verge. Sure, his lyrics aren’t the most uplifting or positive but beneath the distorted vocals, random clips, beeps and squalor of this disc’s 16 tracks are songs that could be cleaned up and sung on any given episode of American Idol… sort of. Once clear of the wall of crud opener "Hyperpower,” Reznor delivers the "My Sharona”-inspired "The Beginning of the End.” What follows is a surprisingly upbeat (musically, if not lyrically) set of songs that riff on everyone from David Bowie to Prince. None of this is meant as negative criticism of Year Zero — what Reznor does, he does well and better than anyone he has inspired. He’s an original and someone who is not afraid to do things his way even, as in the case of this album, if it means producing something a little less ominous than expected. (Universal)