The new double-sided single from Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor packs in everything his fans have come to expect from the tortured, industrial studio hound: whispered, wounded vocals, ambient, dark keyboards, walls of distorted guitars, pounding drums and biting profanity.
The songs will appear on The Fragile, the first NIN album to be released in more than five years. Because the tracks represent opposite ends of the industrial rocker's sonic spectrum, radio programmers said they were quick to put the quiet "The Day the World Went Away"
"We played [the single] right away, even before we had a chance to do the 27 edits on 'Starf'er' " said Steve Kingston, program director for New York radio station WXRK-FM (92.3), which has been airing the songs since the station received them Monday night, three days before the official add date. "We've gotten a ton of calls on both songs since," Kingston added. The Fragile is unofficially slated for release in September.
"The Day the World Went Away," listed as the A-side to the commercial single due in stores Tuesday, opens with the ominous moan of keyboards that are quickly overcome by a slowly strummed army of distorted guitars.
Reznor's nearly whispered vocal breaks through exactly one-and-a-half minutes into the song, with the lyrics: "I'd listen to the words he'd say/ In his voice I heard decay/ The plastic face forced to portray/ The insides left cold and gray." Continuing over an indistinct hum of keyboards and strummed acoustic guitars, Reznor sings, "There is a place that still remains/ It eats the fear, it eats the pain/ The sweetest price he'll have to pay/ The day the whole world went away."
The song fades out in a buzz of swelling "na, na, na" vocals and guitar distortion that bring to mind such previous NIN songs as "Hurt" (RealAudio excerpt) from 1994's The Downward Spiral.
A spokesperson for Reznor's label, Nothing Records, did not return phone calls for comment by press time.
Reznor was quoted in the July issue of Rolling Stone as saying The Fragile is "one of those records that doesn't jump out of the speakers."
"It's real hard for me to have any degree of objectivity," Reznor reportedly said. "People say, 'What's it sound like?' I don't f---ing know. I like it. It's by far the best record I've ever done."
For the past month, photos of Reznor and snippets of new NIN music have been appearing with nearly daily frequency on the official NIN site (www.nin.com). Reznor has been absent from the limelight for nearly two years, while he worked on The Fragile in his New Orleans studio.
The lyrically and musically pointed "Starfuckers, Inc.," a propulsive track in which a robotic-sounding Reznor sneers lyrics over a skittering electronic beat, has the familiar, explosive techno-rock sound of such early NIN songs as "Head Like a Hole"
"My god is in the back of the limousine/ My god comes in a wrapper of cellophane/ My god pouts on the cover of the magazine/ My god is a shallow little bitch trying to make a scene," Reznor deadpans over a driving beat. The chorus of the song explodes over a buzz saw of guitars, with Reznor shouting the words "Starfuckers/ Starfuckers/ Starfuckers, Inc."
The provocative lyrics elicited a number of theories about who Reznor might be referring to in the song. "I think it's about [Hole leader and former Reznor paramour] Courtney Love," said disc jockey Cruze of WFNX (101.7 FM) in Boston. The station put both songs into heavy, every-other-hour rotation Tuesday morning, according to music director Laurie Gail, who said she has already received hundreds of calls requesting and commenting on the tracks.
"There might be some broader things in there about [ex-Reznor protégé] Marilyn Manson," said Cruze, who would only give his radio handle, "but I've heard it's about Courtney because she's been more critical about him."
Cruze said when Hole played the Forum in Boston earlier this year, Love made a sexually provocative crack about Reznor in which she suggested the band should be called "Four Inch Nails."
To add to the drama, the five-minute "Starfuckers, Inc." makes a sly reference to a famous kiss-off song by '70s folk-rock singer Carly Simon, "You're So Vain" (1972) (RealAudio excerpt), in which Simon is widely believed to be dissing either actor Warren Beatty or Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger.
"All our pain/ How did we ever get by without you?," Reznor sings in a menacingly sweet voice, "I bet you think this song is about you/ Don't you?" he adds, quoting the Simon song, eventually screaming the words "Don't you?" over a barrage of guitars and frantic drums.
"I think that the songs represent an amazing evolution in the amount of integration that Trent Reznor has decided to use between ... traditional sound and machine-based sounds," NIN fan Keith Duemling, 21, wrote in an e-mail. The Ohio resident and webmaster of the NIN site "SmashedUpSanity," who heard the songs on the WFNX RealAudio radio station, said he's been waiting what seemed like a lifetime for new music from his favorite band.
Neither Duemling, nor a NIN fan named April, who runs the 9inchnails.net site, were surprised that the songs were quickly bootlegged and posted in MP3 format all over the Internet. "I scrambled to get them up myself asap," wrote April, who did not give her last name. "NIN fans are some of the most dedicated music fans I have ever met, and being one myself, I have been drooling and waiting for so long now, I could hardly prevent myself from getting so excited."
Nine Inch Nails' genre-defining industrial-rock debut, 1989's, Pretty Hate Machine, was followed by a pair of remix EPs, 1992's Broken and Fixed.
Their debut, as well as 1994's The Downward Spiral which also spawned a sequel remix album, Further Down the Spiral (1995) were composed and performed entirely by Reznor, who is believed to have taken the same route on The Fragile.