I've often said, in regards to my ambitions of becoming a record producer, that Mike Shinoda is the reason I do what I do, and Trent Reznor is why I keep doing it. In short, Reznor may be the single greatest musical visionary of the last 25 years. His potent, enigmatic blend of pop sensibility and no-compromise attitude have yet to be matched since the release of Pretty Hate Machine in 1989. In addition, he's also done a fair amount of film and video game composition, the latest news of which being that he will be writing the theme song to the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
Maybe it's just me, but I can't help but to be slightly irked buy this news. Reznor has always admitted that he is an FPS fiend (he even scored Quake and nearly Doom 3 before it fell through due to time constraints), but I feel he's like me in that sense. He's a 90s FPS guy. He's an FPS guy for a cultural landscape that had video games tucked deep into a niche market with the FPS's released during that era brimming with imagination and innovation. They were truly entertaining to play. I still play Doom to this day when I need to blow off some steam.
However, things have changed since the days of yore, and the landscape now consists of the same exact grey-brown eye-in-sight barely-controllable corporate-homogenized set piece, with online multiplayer that doubles as a mind-numbing time-waster, and platform for xenophobia, all of which has blown the doors open into the mainstream, so much so that games have become a consistent talking point for the media and politicians alike.
Not a single noteworthy innovation has permeated the surface of the series, or really AAA mainstream FPS's in general since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. That was five years ago. Stagnation like that just doesn't seem like the kind of thing that Reznor would put his name on.
Sure, Black Ops II changes the setting and antagonist, but so did the first one, and it still sucked, the one new primary idea being, "Infinity Ward is killing Russians in the present, but come buy our game and you can kill them in the recent past ZOMG".
Not to mention what these games are starting to stand for could not be farther from Reznor's wheelhouse. What used to be a tightly focused, insightful rumination on the true consequences of nuclear war, has degenerated into nothing more than disaster porn which the worst kind of politician is turning into their newest version of fear-mongering propaganda. I mean, Christ, they got Oliver North as a spokesperson. Oliver Fucking North! What, was Glenn Beck sick that day?
It's not like we don't know where he stands on the issue. This is the guy who produced the uber-insightful, culturally defining masterpiece that was Year Zero (soon to be an HBO TV series, I believe, in related "awesome" news), so to see him involved with the same big budget production as the Iran Contra Guy just doesn't sit right with me.
Listen, I know that Trent has grown up, and I could not be happier for him for it. In fact, I'm of the mind that he has put out some of his best work since he ditched the tortured, perfectionist, alcohol and drug induced, weird for weird's sake persona he began to portray in the late 90s. I'm certainly not one of those insular, toxic, unstable fans who believe he needs to go back to those days to truly regain his "rock star" essence and perspective of pain, because "real" artists aren't allowed to be happy. For example of that, see Marilyn Manson.
Seriously, as a musician myself, fuck those guys.
The fact is, sober or not, Reznor always stood for what music could be when you truly expressed yourself, raw and real, out-of the-box, no filter, no empty suit telling you what to do. He is a banner of artistic integrity. He's damn near a demigod to guys like me who wish to make it on their terms; Proof positive that if you have the talent and drive, it can be done.
Even his previous forays into other mediums have been for Id Software's line of 90s game-changers (Doom, Quake), and unconventionally over-the-top films about angst-ridden killings, identity crises, and erotic exhibitionism (Natural Born Killers, Lost Highway), which, polarizing though they may have been, is exactly what Reznor embodied musically at that time with Broken and The Downward Spiral, so both artistically and aesthetically, it made perfect sense. I mean, come on, Natural Born Killers was basically a cultural satire of the media by way of mass murder. To deny Reznor's name being written all over that is to deny John Hancock's on the Declaration of Independence.
And I feel as if his two recent scores for The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo need no introduction or historical perspective except to say, "awesome, off-beat companion pieces to cinematic masterworks (well, at least the former, the latter is just damn good)".
So, given all of this knowledge, I have to ask: Why is he doing this, again? I can't help but think that on any other day, what Call of Duty has come to represent is everything that Reznor has steadfastly stood against his entire career. Nothing about this project with Treyarch gels with anything he's done before creatively, nor does it lie within his own artistic perspective.
Perhaps I'm passing judgement too early, and I'm sure whatever music he does put out will be as high a quality as we have come to expect from him, and perhaps I'm making way too many assumptions on his character, given that I don't know him and make no claims otherwise. After all, what am I getting so worked up about? Its just noise injected into a collection of zeros and ones.
Except Reznor never looked at it that way...