Copyright 2002 Bowdoin Orient via U-WIRE

[ February 2nd 2002 ]

The first seconds of Nine Inch Nails's first live album are a staggering blast of noise. The chaos soon materializes into the mechanical fury of Terrible Lie. The band continues in a similar vein through Sin, then steps it up for March of the Pigs. Hyper-psychotic thrash metal destroys your eardrums for about a minute and a half, then stops abruptly. A bright, catchy melody is played on piano and singer Trent Reznor asks, "Now doesn't it make you feel better?" Silence. Then the fury resumes.

And All That Could Have Been doesn't leave much to be desired for the Nine Inch Nails fan. It's very loud. Instead of laboring in a studio for two or three years, Reznor, with the help of his friends and sometimes session players, bashed these tracks out in front of live audiences on the Fragility V2.0 Tour. The frontman sets himself loose, letting the music carry him and adding the f-word often.

The song selection on the album offers a graceful career overview. NIN's 1989 industrial metal debut Pretty Hate Machine and the screaming 1992 Broken EP are represented by three songs each; the band's most successful record, the raw but catchy 1994 suicide concept album The Downward Spiral, contributes four songs; and Reznor's latest masterpiece, the critically-acclaimed 1999 double album The Fragile contributes six.

The metal dominates the majority of the album, with "The Frail" and "The Great Below" offering respite: the former a moody instrumental, the latter a ballad-the emotional highlight of The Fragile. The easily-recognizable "Closer" marks the start of the finale. "Head Like A Hole," Nine Inch Nails's breakthrough hit, benefits from ten years of popularity. It's a killer live version, elevated in sound and intensity so that it sounds dangerous. The hymn "The Day the World Went Away" is a beginning on The Fragile; on All That Could Have Been it is an end. But the band returns for the retro-style "Starf***ers, Inc." and the survey of the devastation after the release "Hurt."

The best part about Halo Seventeen, though, is the bonus album. On the aptly-named Still, available in the deluxe 2-CD version of And All That Could Have Been, Reznor does away with the noise. He revisits four songs spanning his career and recasts them, as he is apt to do on frequent remix albums like Further Down the Spiral and Things Falling Apart. But instead of receiving new layers of noise, these songs become close, spare, intimate, and breathing. "Something I Can Never Have" is nothing but a piano and Reznor's voice for six and a half minutes. On "The Fragile" and "The Becoming," Reznor yells into a vacuum.

Additionally, we get five new songs. Only one of these is not an instrumental-the meditative "And All That Could Have Been." But NIN's instrumentals are not to be dismissed; "Just Like You Imagined" was possibly the best song on The Fragile. These soundscapes are haunted by the atmospherics of Fragile tracks like "La Mer" and "Ripe (With Decay)"-marimba, acoustic guitar, and programmed sounds that are the result of those years in the studio. "And All That Could Have Been" is the centerpiece of Still and a good sign for the future, unlike the Tomb Raider soundtrack's "Deep," which was the worst song of NIN's career.

And All That Could Have Been is also available as a DVD. The video performance lacks "The Day the World Went Away" but adds three Fragile instrumentals-"Complication," "La Mer," and "Just Like You Imagined."

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