Something truly surprising happened yesterday: Trent Reznor announced not simply that his seminal band Nine Inch Nails was recording new studio material but that he'd actually completeda full album and would soon be releasing it to the world and touring in support of it. What's shocking about this isn't just the news itself but the fact that Reznor and Company had managed to keep the whole project a secret through an entire writing and recording process and apparently well past post-production. That kind of thing just doesn't happen anymore, not since the era of social media dawned and began choking out the notion of secrecy, creating an increasingly transparent society.
Think about it: When was the last time you were actually stunned by the ending of a movie or even that a movie was in production? When was the last time you saw a trailer on television or in a theater for something you didn't already know was coming or learned of an imminent album release that hadn't been telegraphed months or even years in advance? When it comes to entertainment media in particular, unless you make the choice to actively avoid spoilers -- and even then it's tough -- there's a pretty good chance you know what's going to happen long before it actually happens. And yet over the past few months, three very big musical projects have managed to somehow fly completely under the cultural radar and pop up only when things were good and ready. No leaks, no hints, nothing. Just a very pleasant surprise at a time of the artists' choosing.
At the beginning of February, out of nowhere, Fall Out Boy ended the "indefinite hiatus" they'd suddenly announced four years earlier not simply with word that they were getting back together but, like Nine Inch Nails, with the news that they'd recorded an entire album, had a release date for it set, and would soon be hitting the road to push it. The record's first single, My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark, dropped almost immediately following the initial nationwide PR blitz. It was brilliant marketing, giving fans who would almost certainly take to the internet at light speed looking for leaks of potential new songs something slick and studio-recorded to whet their appetites for the coming full album. Somehow, Fall Out Boy hadn't just kept a reunion and an entire new record under wraps for months, they'd managed to completely control the roll-out of the record. It's the kind of thing that, again, is unheard-of these days.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, a surprise guest appeared at the annual KROQ Weenie Roast here in L.A. As the stage the various bands played on rotated into place, the opening strains of Stone Temple Pilots' Vaseline were heard, but given that the band had just recently fired its brilliant but perpetual pain-in-the-ass frontman Scott Weiland, no one was sure who could be singing for the group. That's when Linkin Park's Chester Bennington turned around and shocked the hell out of everybody. Again, not only had Chester somehow secretly joined STP, they'd already recorded a new single, Out of Time, which was released almost immediately after the unveiling of the new band.
There are a couple other examples of musical artists unleashing completely surprising projects over the past year or so, not the least of which was a new album from My Bloody Valentine -- their first in more than two decades -- but I think you get the idea. The point is how shocking it is to be shocked at all in the age of the internet. We've become a spoiler culture, one that's all-too-accustomed to having every surprise ruined by the fact that somebody knows something, and that person, like the rest of us, is connected to the social media hive mind. When one of us knows, another of us is sure to find out, and when that happens it's a very short hop to almost all of us knowing. Information spreads quickly and virally with very little in the way of impenetrable firewalls to stop it.
And yet, somehow, some of the biggest bands in the world managed to keep their secrets secret. They decided when the time was right and amazingly no one blew the surprise beforehand. And for those of us who are not just fans of those bands but who are admittedly nostalgic for a time when not every bit of information was at your fingertips, it felt really, really good to be reminded what it was like when you could still get that jolt of startling discovery. I'm not quite sure how any of these artists did what they did, but I know that I'd like to see more of it. You can keep the thrill of peeking at your presents early. I'll take Christmas morning.