Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions Of Nine Inch Nails

Can Trent Reznor put your little ones to sleep?  Musician Alex Gibson and his record label, Baby Rock Records, believe so.  On Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions Of Nine Inch Nails, which was released earlier this February, ten songs from the band’s catalogue have been reworked into exactly 42 minutes of sleepy time music.  Loud, heavily distorted, electric guitars, pounding drums, and screaming vocals have been replaced with quieter vibraphones, mellotrons and glockenspiels, plus a dash of piano and bass.  Not a single tortured lyric is heard here.  It’s an all instrumental album.
 
But how do you assess a project like this when you’re not the target audience?  How can you possibly be fair when these covers are not meant for your ears?  The short answer to both questions is you can’t, which hasn’t prevented me from developing an opinion after one complete listen.  (A second go-round is unlikely to change my mind.)  The only reason for its existence is to give parents a break when it comes to putting their babies to bed.  However, this might not be the kind of music they should be listening to.
 
It’s been argued that you shouldn’t try to be so quiet around your children when they’re trying to sleep.  It’s impossible to maintain complete silence for long stretches of time in your house, so the sooner you expose your babies to noise while they’re resting the better their sleeping habits will be in the long run.  My mom liked to turn the TV on and run the vacuum when I was really young.  Dad had the stereo blasting constantly.  As a result, I’ve been able to sleep through thunderstorms, sirens, crashes and all sorts of loud disruptions throughout my life.
 
Putting on soft music for a young baby to doze off to, naturally, is a great idea.  You can’t really sleep very well if you’re not reasonably relaxed and the youngest of the young are no different than the rest of us in that regard.  Some nights, you’re just not tired.  That’s why the right background music at the right level can be extremely helpful.  Concentrate long enough and before you know it, you’re out cold.
 
But is the music of Trent Reznor really translatable to this growing genre of baby rock lullabies?  Again, I don’t know how many people have bought this album and successfully used it to put their babies in a nightly, routine slumber.
 
What I do know is that it is very strange.  Imagine The Velvet Underground, minus John Cale, doing a warped version of Pet Sounds heavily influenced by the opening of U2’s Electrical Storm and you have an idea of what it sounds like.  It opens with three big singles from The Downward Spiral:  Hurt, Closer and Piggy.  The latter two don’t really work as ballads.  You can somewhat recognize the melodies even though these are not photocopied covers.  The originals are edgy and dark, and it’s hard not to think of Reznor’s intensely personal and depraved lyrics as you hear the tinkling melody of the vibraphone.
 
Hurt, on the other hand, is quite effective.  After Johnny Cash’s famous version, you wouldn’t think anybody else could find an interesting interpretation.  But Alex Gibson does.  I’m just not sure it’s the kind of song you want a young baby to hear.  It’s not a happy tune.
 
The rest of the CD features selections from With Teeth (The Hand That Feeds which doesn’t work at a slower pace), Broken (Wish), The Fragile (La Mer which also features a bit of Into The Void and Fragile which incorporates The Frail into the mix) and Pretty Hate Machine (Sin, Head Like A Hole and Something I Can Never Have).  Besides Hurt, Sin and Something I Can Never Have are the only other songs I enjoyed listening to.  That last song, which concludes the album, goes on for six minutes and is remarkably unsettling for a lullaby.  You can imagine it being used in a horror film, not unlike the original.  In fact, the second half of the record makes you question the judgment of the people responsible for this project in the first place.  Now I’m no Dr. Spock, but these ten instrumentals don’t strike me as the kind of music that would put you to sleep or even put you at ease.  Even though they’re all considerably less forthright than Trent Reznor’s originals, it’s more than a little weird to expose a young baby to sounds that don’t evoke images of happy, purple dinosaurs and cheerful, underwater sponges.  This isn’t sweet, wholesome family fare we’re talking about here, and no matter what instruments you use to cover this material and how low the volume is when you play it back, the creepy tone of those original melodies is unmistakable.  Could this music possibly do the job of a good bedtime story?  I’m not sure, nor will I ever know.
 
Reznor’s talent as a songwriter was pretty much established nearly 20 years ago with that first album, Pretty Hate Machine.  One wonders what he thinks of these interpretations of some of his best and most familiar material.  All I know is Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions Of Nine Inch Nails didn’t put me to sleep.  It’s an inconsistent entertainment that makes you appreciate the originals that much more.  If I was a parent with a young child, this would be the last record I would expose them to.  It’s far too early to introduce them to one of our best performers.  His music is the stuff of nightmares, not the sweet dreams of an innocent babe.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
6:50 p.m.
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Published in: on October 24, 2007 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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