It’s fascinating to watch the ’90s alt-rock all-stars condemn the industry in 2008, raging against the machines that birthed them, whether they’re seeking justice in court or appealing to an even higher power: the virtual court of public opinion. Whatever else you think of Trent Reznor, his dalliances have been fascinating: flash-drives left in random bathrooms, elaborate open-source remix projects, $5-to-a-good-home ambient opuses. On that last point, I agree heartily with the honorable Christopher R. Weingarten about Ghosts I-IV: namely, that his democratic ambient ambitions run the risk of making his captive audience realize how easy it’d be to make their own meandering mood music. You push for democracy, you run the risk of being voted out.
But this new one, “Discipline,” at least reaches back to Trent’s pretty hate machines of old, a stomping backbeat prodding along behind his plinking, moody piano of more recent vintage. It’s not that great a song, no. But it’s immensely comforting to watch Trent plug away at it, tapping the decaying music industry’s walls, looking for hollow spaces he can still slither inside. You can probably do better, but good on him if he eventually convinces you to actually do it.