As a fan of both nine inch nails and experimental instrumental music, I’ve never listened to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or The Social Network albums by n.i.n. mastermind Trent Reznor and his composing partner Atticus Ross as if they were soundtrack CDs. Instead, to me, they’re sonic soundscapes, instrumental collections just like nine inch nails’ 2008’s ghosts i-iv. And so it is as well with Gone Girl, their third instrumental collaboration (CD, vinyl, iTunes, digital).
Well, sort of. While both ghosts i-iv and The Social Network soundtrack sounded some of the less aggressive instrumentals from such nine inch nails’ albums as the fragile, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo evolved along the path that even further, the music on the Gone Girl soundtrack is somewhat more conventional. Sure, there’s moments of noisy dissonance and atmospheric keyboard tones, but not a lot of the untuned piano tones, metal-on-metal percussion, or raw guitars that are Reznor and Ross’ signature. It’s decidedly more airy, slower in pace, and less dramatic. As a result, Gone Girl is a lot closer to the work of mid-’70s Tangerine Dream (think 1974’s Phaedra, 1975’s Rubycon, and 1976’s Stratosfear) than mid-’00s nine inch nails.
This is fitting since, as Gone Girl director David Fincher recently told The Wall Street Journal in this interview, the idea behind the music came as he was getting his back adjusted at a spa: “I was listening to that calming, placating music and thought, ‘We need to tap into this.” Which explains why the Gone Girl soundtrack is far more ethereal and atmospheric, while its predecessors were dark and moody.
Problem is, Reznor — be it on his own as nine inch nails or with Ross on these soundtracks — is better when he’s being all dark and moody. One has only to listen to the awkwardly upbeat “everything” on nine inch nails’ 2013 album hesitation marks to know that. Which isn’t to say that the Gone Girl soundtrack is happy or peppy or anything, just that it’s not nearly as dark or as moody as The Social Network or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo scores.
That said, Gone Girl does have moments of darkness. They’re just fewer and further between than what these two did before. Rather than be the dominant mood, as it was on The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo albums, the moody bits are more the exception than the rule here.
Or to put it another way, while The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo albums were depressed with a hint of resentment, Gone Girl is a sadness that’s been lingering for some time.
That said, Reznor and Ross don’t make the same mistake on Gone Girl that they did on The Social Network or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: include a crap cover. While the former had an ill-fitting rendition of Edvard Grieg’s “The Hall Of The Mountain King,” the latter began with a horrid cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and ended with a lifeless version of Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough.” But Gone Girl is thankfully cover-free, which makes it the most consistent album Reznor and Ross have done together.
Ultimately, Gone Girl is still a solid collection of moody instrumentals from two guys who excel at this sort of thing. While it’s not the best work they’ve done together, not even close, it’s still an exceptional collection that will serve me well when want my life to have an atmospheric soundtrack of its own.