Any year with a new Nine Inch Nails CD is a good year. I've watched in amusement as the whole "guerrilla marketing" campaign for Year Zero unfolded. I'm sure I would have ate that up when I was in college. These days I don't have time for researching mystery drugs, calling encrypted telephone numbers, and searching for underground websites. All I have time for is the music, and that does not disappoint.
I was a little nervous about a concept album from NIN. Lyrical has never been Trent Reznor's strength. But like every NIN CD, it doesn't matter. The music on Year Zero is amazing. It made me think about how most artists who make heavy use of technology (like Reznor) make heavy use of sampling. That's how they use modern technology to make music. Not Reznor. NIN is much more organic than artists like contemporaries such as Beck and Moby, or more recent electro-artists like Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley. Even U2 made heavy use of sampling when they did their technology forrays on Zooropa and Pop. The only band that takes a similar approach to NIN is Radiohead.
Anyways back to Year Zero. The music is intense. The lyrics mine the concept more than adequately. They are a little repetitious at times, but the music keeps you from noticing. This is a lot more like what I would have expected of NIN after The Fragile than With Teeth was. It's an incredible CD. Arguably the best NIN CD from start-to-finish. There's never a weak point and there's one surprise after another.
Don't just take my word for it, since I am unabashed NIN fan. It has received very good reviews across the board. It even got a nice review from traditional NIN-bashers Pitchfork. They make a good point that essentially Reznor has embraced the long tail (they don't use that technology metaphor of course.) Whatever the case, NIN has made my year.