Pros: harsh, uncompromising live versions of your NIN favorites
Cons: most people will bemoan the lack of "Down in It", a bit overproduced
Dedicated to thevoid99, who seems to be missing in action, and who, once he returns, will make this review look unthoughtful and quite stupid.
The live album has always been something that has been a total hit or a total miss. It's rare that a live album is "just ok." Most times, it fell into the latter category of being a total miss. The songs just don't sound right, the production sucks, the performance was lacking, the songs couldn't be transported into a live setting, whatever it was, most live albums suck. Despite this, it doesn't stop them from selling, and when bands get it right, it's usually the only album you really need from that band.
This week brings us the first live Nine Inch Nails disc, released as a kind of companion piece to the live DVD that was also released this week. Both are titled And All That Could Have Been. In fact, there are two different issues of the CD, one being a 16 track single disc release, the other, the one I am reviewing, contains the 16 track first disc as well as a 45 minute or so bonus disc that is titled Still. This features more "studio live" material as well as some new studio material. 5 songs are brand new, and 4 are "deconstructed" versions of old songs. Needless to say, Nine Inch Nails diehards should pick up the Special Edition. It has a solid case for the digipack, which is rather reminiscent of the package for The Fragile, the tour that these discs are supposed to document and represent.
Unlike most live discs, there is no crowd noise that acts as kind of a soft intro to prepare you for what's to come. No, Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor wastes no time in throwing you headlong into the quick drum roll that signals the beginning of Terrible Lie, from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine. Reznor sounds quite intense from the get-go, singing the words to the song with contempt and anger that bands like Disturbed only wish they could match.
Immediately following that, the band wastes no time in playing Sin, another song from PHM. This proves to be a winning showcase for the other members of Reznor's band, although I question the production on it. It sounds more studio than it does live for long segments of the song and one can only wonder how many studio overdubs might have taken place. (If anything, this "performance" reminds me of AC/DC's live disc, which is so much more studio than live, it's pathetic.)
March of the Pigs and Piggy continue this run of "live greatest hits" if you will, and both of them sound much better than Sin. I've always loved the raw energy, loudness, and abrasiveness of March of the Pigs, and I've really always liked Reznor's self mocking kind of vocal delivery on Piggy.
I wasn't a very big fan of The Fragile. I think I was one of those fans who just didn't "get it." It was supposedly a concept album but it just left me confused and rather irritated. My brother loved it, but he's a ridiculously huge fan. So needless to say I was worried how the Fragile songs that appear here would fare in a live setting. I needn't have worried. While I might not get the overall concept, some of those songs rocked, and here, The Wretched is a definite highlight.
Also, anyone who was worried that the sheer brutality of Wish would be somewhat lost after nearly 10 years can breathe easy. I put this on repeat and just listened to it over and over again. It's always been my favorite NIN song.
Speaking of favorite NIN songs, the 3 best known songs come towards the end: Closer, Head Like a Hole, and Hurt. Closer comes first, and the cheer of familiarity is very audible. However, Closer suffers from a serious case of "studio-itis" as well. Head Like a Hole doesn't suffer from any of that though, as it just sounds tight and focused. The gorgeous ballad Hurt, which this reviewer feels is Nine Inch Nails' best song, closes out the first disc. While this review seems to bring up fears, my fear with this song is that the band or Trent would rush it, and not let it build up the tension it so wonderfully does. Another fear has been put to rest, as this version is nothing short of spectacular, and Reznor's voice, which sounds truly special throughout this disc, finally gets the showcase it deserves.
Some fans will bemoan the lack of Down In It, a fan favorite from Pretty Hate Machine. But Reznor has stated he can't get into the place that that song came from and that it means nothing to him in recent interviews for this live project.
The second disc is probably best for diehards of the group. I just wish I had known that before I bought the deluxe edition. Even still, it has some good material on it.
The "deconstructed" version of Something I Can Never Have is fabulous. The piano adds to the fragility (no pun intended) of Trent's voice nicely. The other deconstructed songs are much the same: piano has been mixed heavily into the forefront of the songs, and the aggresiveness isn't really there the way it normally is with Nine Inch Nails. Occasionally, in Trent's vocal delivery, it's present, but this almost seems to be a "kinder, gentler" Nine Inch Nails feature.
The new songs have the same general feel. Quite frankly I was kind of bored by them. There was no real urgency to them, no passion much at all. Then again, that's just me.
If you're a casual Nine Inch Nails fan (as I would probably be), then the one disc version should be more than enough for you to bite into. But if you're a die-hard fan, you'll want the "limited deluxe edition," the deconstructed tracks, and the new ones as well. Then again, the packaging and the heavy duty slipcase on the limited edition are pretty cool...but I guess I'll leave that up to you.