The card arrived from Nothing Records just before Christmas. It was so simple in design and execution as to almost run the risk of being overlooked amid the plethora of holiday-related times. Only two words adorned it-- NINety NINe. It took a few seconds for the significance of the message to fully sink in. This was more than a simple "Happy Holidays" card, more than a mere New Year's salutation. It was a promise, a tease, and a reminder all neatly wrapped up in one incredibly discreet message-- there was to be new music from Nine Inch Nails in 1999.
Of course, the card didn't say exactly when we might begin anticipating such an arrival. And as we've all somewhat painfully learned over the last few years, attempting to guess what NIN visionary Trent Reznor might do next is truly a dangerous game. Many of us have now been anxiously awaiting a new Nails disc for the better part of two years, but as a variety of business and legal entanglements have slowed Reznor's musical march to a virtual crawl, even the slightest hint that fresh NIN tunes may finally be on the way is enough to turn the band's still rabid fan following into a frothing-at-the-mouth mob, one filled with anticipatory fervor.
"Who knows what's really up with Nine Inch Nails?" a music insider revealed. "I think the label may have been hoping more than promising when they sent out those Christmas cards. But who really knows? I wonder if even Trent does. But perhaps that's part of his charm."
The undeniable fact is that few bands in the history of contemporary music have enjoyed making a more quixotic impact on the rack form than Nine Inch Nails. To some, the band fronted by the ever-mysterious Mr. Reznor is rock's singularly most distinctive be-all and end-all-- the band best equipped both mentally and artistically to lead the style's creative charge into the new millennium. To others, the group's admittedly unusual musical approach has been viewed as being little more than a self-serving, self-possessed and too often self-righteous outlet for Reznor's off-center rantings. Either way, whether you love 'em, hate 'em or somehow have managed to ignore 'em, despite their long absence from the music scene (it's now been four years since the release of the band's last disc, The Downward Spiral), NIN still rank among the most potent forces currently inhabiting the rock and roll landscape.
With the supposedly imminent release (yes, we know, you've heard that one before) of the group's oft-delayed new disc, it appears as if Nine Inch Nails remain surprisingly well positioned for their next full-out assault on rock's upper echelons. Following so long after The Downward Spiral served to instantly transform Reznor and his musical henchmen from pretenders to contenders in the rock and roll hierarchy, the new disc's supposedly unpredictable nature and ground-breaking style seem destined to carry the NIN machine to new heights of glory. Already industry heavyweights in the television, radio and magazine arenas have begun jockeying with one another in order to best position themselves as the "exclusive source" for the latest and greatest Reznor/NIN info. It's all been enough to bring a broad smile to Reznor's often stoic features.
"It's always gratifying when people show interest in what you're doing," he said. "But sometimes it does seem a little strange to me. They all want to find a different angle, a different approach to analyzing what we're doing. To me, there's only one approach-- and that's the musical one."
As much as Reznor may wish to have media and fan focus stay squarely on his rock and roll output, many of the events surrounding the oft-delayed emergence of the new disc have made such a straight-forward attitude nearly impossible. In fact, as far back as 1997 rumors began filling the rock wires indicating that some of those who worked hand-in-hand with NIN musical machine were somewhat distressed by the bold, cutting-edge approach utilized by Reznor throughout his latest opus-- as if they should have been really surprised. Indeed the gossip mill went so far as to indicate that some aspects of the original two-disc set had been criticized as being too "out there" by label officials more interested in presenting a top-selling musical package than in promoting the artistic evolution of the rock form.
"I don't know how difficult things really got between the label and Reznor," an inside source revealed. "But I believe there was a great deal of consternation at the company over aspects of what secret that Trent really pushed the limits in certain places, and though the label certainly expected there to be some strange and controversial elements associated with anything that Nine Inch Nails did, they were hoping for an album that would also make them a lot of money. Supposedly, they didn't immediately hear any 'hits' when the material was first played for them."
Whether or not the label truly developed a temporary case of "cold feet" due to the apparent lack of Top 10 material contained within the eclectic grooves of the new NIN disc, such problems have apparently now been placed in their proper perspective. Supposedly, Reznor sensed that he couldn't risk another on-going war with a record label 9as he victoriously had with his first label, TVT, in the early '90s), and the label knew they couldn't risk alienating their biggest star. Perhaps it is best said that an uneasy truce has finally developed between these two factions, and that it has apparently allowed for the eventual appearance of new NIN music in 1999. Though the label was forced to miss out on the guaranteed NIN bonanza that would have invariable come their way if the disc had made it onto record store shelves in time for last year's lucrative Christmas season, they also realized that a '99 release for the opus virtually guarantees it an unopposed trip to the very apex of chart success.
"I don't think it's speaking out of school to say that a new Nine Inch Nails release ranks among the most anxiously awaited events of any year," a label contact revealed. "In case of this album, few discs in recent memory have been more anxiously awaited by more people-- and with good reason. The unpredictability of NIN's approach, as well as Trent Reznor's proven tack record for brilliance as both a producer and as a performer, makes this an incredible opportunity for everyone."