Nine Inch Nails shines as Gorillaz, Orbital serve tepid sequels

Nine Inch Nails — ‘Bad Witch’
THE GOOD: Nine Inch Nails’ ninth finds mastermind Trent Reznor taking some serious musical chances.
THE BAD: Six tracks in 30 minutes blurs the lines between EP and LP. Or does “Bad Witch” simply leave you craving more darkness?
THE NITTY GRITTY: If Reznor ever attempted to make a loose SOUL album, this might be it. The man plays copious amounts of saxophone within the mix, which detracts some power from the usual electronic buzz and hum. Some moments even find Reznor channeling his dearly departed friend and collaborator David Bowie. Smoky bits such as “God Break Down the Door” or the funky “Over and Out” wouldn’t feel out of place during that artist’s mid-’80s rhythmic period.
The affair also works seamlessly as a whole, jumping from the traditional NIN angst of “S— Mirror” to the aforementioned Bowie-isms to haunting instrumentals such as “I’m Not from This World.” It’s a record that feels both strikingly human and eerily detached all at once.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Gorillaz — ‘The Now Now’ 
THE GOOD: British virtual band Gorillaz comes back (already) with its sixth.
THE BAD: If last year’s “Humanz” had too many guests and not enough Damon Albarn out front, “Now Now” is the exact opposite. Now it’s 90 percent Albarn and a lack of fresh ideas. Maybe if we MERGE the two albums. Hmmmm…
THE NITTY GRITTY: There are some satisfying moments here. The slick electropop carrying “Humility,” the urban swagger of “Hollywood,” the simple beauty that is “Idaho” — they all work. Too bad other parts feel unfinished. “Lake Zurich” gets off to a funky start but fizzles. “Fire Flies” and “One Percent” are tepid, half-baked jams that would have once been B-sides.
Albarn has released a LOT of new music over the past half-decade — a Blur reunion record, a solo album and now two Gorillaz sets. Maybe it’s time to relax and recharge the batteries. Last year, I called the Gorillaz catalog one of diminishing returns. For the time being, it’s leveled off.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

Orbital — ‘Monsters Exist’
THE GOOD: British electronic duo Orbital (brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll) get together AGAIN for their ninth.
THE BAD: “Monsters” makes no bold leaps forward. Still…
THE NITTY GRITTY: The album could be considered a welcome return to form. Orbital first called it quits around 2004, just as the ’90s electronic golden age was shutting down for good. It reformed briefly around the turn of the decade, and then again last year. A series of live shows got the creative juices flowing, and “Monsters” is the result.
The proper set is a tight, nine-song opus that sees the brothers using their old tricks — multi-layered seamless beats and basslines, ethereal vocal loops, whirring hypnotic synths, and a clean and shiny mix. There’s also a bonus disc of “leftovers,” some of which are just as infectious as the main show.
The record’s only drawback is a lack of differentiation from the existing catalog. “Monsters” ends up an enjoyable run through familiar grooves, but maybe it’s just for the diehards.
BUY IT?: Your call.

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