This latest chapter in the ongoing love affair between director David Fincher and all round living deity Trent Reznor (oh and the other fella named after a fictional lawyer) is quite the thing, really. I’ve not seen the film, because cinemas seem to want money from you when you go into them and I’m too lazy to download it. So this is not a review of the album as a soundtrack, which is helpful since I don’t really see this as a soundtrack album. Even though it is. It even has it written right there on the cover. No, I see this as Ghosts V to VIII. Traditional soundtrack albums (including Ross and Reznor’s previous work for Fincher on The Social Network) do not after all tend to push the 39 track mark, the three hour mark, or the 3CD mark.
You get the sense with this massively ambitious album that while the work has been created to fit the vision of Fincher’s film that it is not in any way encumbered by that starting point. In fact it feels even freer than the pair’s previous work on the Ghosts albums, since this is no longer directly linked to the Nine Inch Nails tag, with all the baggage that represents.
The soundtrack itself is bookended by two more conventional songs, first a cover of Immigrant Song with Karen O (and if you haven’t heard that yet then you’re missing a doozy) and the other a song by Trent’s band with his wife, How To Destroy Angels, which is more in keeping with the morose feeling of the rest of the work. But in the context of the rest of the album they both actually feel rather out of place, like rounding off a three course meal of exquisitely created fine cuisine with a Mars Bar before and after. Nice enough on their own but a tad out of place.
As for the rest of it what we have is less a conventional album and more a three hour sonic journey through a somewhat deranged world. Mostly instrumental, save for a few haunting vocals dotted around the place, the 37 tracks veer from one note repetitive themes that build into insistent industrial noise to gentle piano led refrains accompanied by backgrounds of electrical static. The tracks largely bleed melodies into each other, some of which will be identifiable to long-time NIN fans as echoes of their earlier works.
The key watchword throughout though, is haunting. Whereas on The Social Network their remit was to provide some brooding industrial cool to sit alongside the smart and fast paced script, here the darker world of sexual violence and brutality the story inhabits has really allowed Reznor and Ross to go to some very dark places, both sonically and emotionally. Metallic echoes are allowed to go on and on until they no longer have any real worldly sound, and the sadness drips of the walls of these sounds. Most of the work here does not sound created by traditional instruments, save for the piano that weaves through it, and the occasional buzz saw guitars that punctuate the gloom like angry wasp attacks.
By the time you reach the aforementioned finale (which does rather let the air out of the tyres if I’m honest, Mariquuen Maandig Reznor’s voice lacks the emotional resonance her husband can evoke so effortlessly) you’ll be lucky if you are still wearing any kind of a smile but the quality of the journey itself more than makes up for the bruises you pick up along the way.
And now, to completely undercut my own point, here’s the video to the excellent Immigrant Song: