A sonic auteur has found someone on his wavelength, but their latest work is a demanding listen.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Trent Reznor's career is a study in unconventional, uncompromising rock stardom. As the sole member of Nine Inch Nails he became the dark godfather of experimental electronic rock, even living and recording at the house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family. Along the way, he endured a lengthy court battle with his long-time manager and a public spat with his record company, while live musicians were regularly hired and fired. This is a man who clearly revels in complete creative control.
His successful move into soundtrack work has therefore come as something of a surprise, given that the final say in such projects tends to rest with the film's director. Reznor was burnt by this process before, when in 2001 his work on the film One Hour Photo was left on the cutting room floor.
A decade on and this demanding sonic auteur has now found a directorial soulmate in David Fincher, as well as a trusted musical collaborator in Nine Inch Nails's regular producer, Atticus Ross. Their score for Fincher's fine Facebook movie The Social Network won an Oscar earlier this year, and, buoyed by that victory, their follow-up is the most ambitious soundtrack release in recent memory. Ambitious and decidedly difficult: anyone who listens to it in one sitting arguably deserves an award, too.
Fincher's new film is an adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson's phenomenally successful Millennium trilogy, and Reznor/Ross have responded with a triumvirate of their own, a three-CD set that can also be bought as six vinyl records in a signed metal box. The duo spent 14 months crafting these 39 sinister tracks, and with a running time of almost three hours, the score is longer than the film itself.
The journey begins in promising fashion with a stirring cover of Led Zeppelin's tribal anthem Immigrant Song, complete with a memorable vocal from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That track emerged as an early teaser for this much-discussed release but is actually one of only two regular songs on the record, as the bulk is made up of abstract industrial noise, and was clearly not designed with home listening in mind. Reznor and Ross's The Social Network score also featured an undercurrent of experimental sound but usually as a subtle backdrop to more accessible melodies. Here, they give those buzzes and whirrs centre-stage, and the recurring musical theme sounds not unlike a swarm of bees operating heavy machinery.
Thankfully, there are numerous piano interludes along the way, and on the early standout track A Thousand Details those plaintive keys, ethereal sounds and tribal drums suddenly converge for a grippingly intense sonic onslaught. The in-cinema experience must be excruciating.
Much of the work here is undeniably impressive, but by the halfway mark even enthusiastic buyers of that expensive box-set may find themselves reluctant to flip over for yet another oppressive, unmelodic side of vinyl. Taking these noises in isolation, one begins to wonder what liberties the sci-fi-loving Fincher has taken with Larsson's gritty whodunit; the climax of A Viable Construct resembles the croak of a mechanical frog, while We Could Wait Forever could well be the murmurings of some extraterrestrial creature. Surely not.
The closing song, Is Your Love Strong Enough, is credited to How to Destroy Angels, the duo's spin-off band with Reznor's wife, Mariqueen Maandig. Surprisingly weak, it still comes as an enormous relief after that lengthy endurance test, as does the final metallic whirr as CD Three shuts off. With two sequels and presumably two similar soundtrack albums yet to come, even Larsson's most fervent fans may baulk at completing this particular trilogy.