I am neither a reliable source when it comes to Trent Reznor (despite having heard every Nine Inch Nails album and some of his various side projects; if there was a time when I could have connected better with Reznor’s bracing vision of introversive anxiety, it has long passed) nor soundtracks, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt. I love this album. Loved it five years ago when I downloaded it based on Trent Reznor’s name and his name alone, having no idea who Atticus Ross or David Fincher were, loved it when I finally heard the film it soundtracks five years later (What can I say? A film about “the guy who made Facebook” didn’t appeal to me back then). “In Motion” (title is apt), in particular, is one of my favorite tracks by anyone, streamlining “32 Ghosts IV” (actually, the entire soundtrack streamlines Ghosts I-IV, its obvious predecessor), taking its bass propulsion, and replacing that song’s demonic “vocals” for arpeggiated synths and a dash of piano, and, as its usage in the film demonstrates, is perfect regardless if you’re at house party or behind a laptop because you weren’t invited.
Most of the album follows “In Motion”’s formula, its sprint through darkness and its gradual crescendo, regardless if they’re ambient or not (which a good chunk are); Brian Eno is the obvious inspiration here. “Hand Covers Bruise” juxtaposes striking piano notes with slicing wind, and on whether or not the soundtrack works fine on its own, “Hand Covers Bruise” seems less randomly bleak; it was used in the opening credits while Jesse Eisenberg/Mark Zuckerberg ran through the Harvard campus. The chainsaw electric guitar throughout “A Familiar Taste” sounds like it could have been an instrumental in a Nine Inch Nails album; the thudding bass and piano motif of “Intriguing Possibilities” making it the second most kinetic track after “In Motion,” leading us to the guitar solo without any effort; “Pieces Form the Whole” has a nice counterpointing melodies.
True, the soundtrack is frontloaded (all four of those songs come within the first five-block stretch), and the last three songs feel like regurgitations of previous songs (“Complication With Optimistic Outcome” as “In Motion”; “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety” – love that title – and “Soft Trees Break the Fall” as “Hand Covers Bruise”). Outside of their natural element, the short sketches, “It Catches Up With You,” “Penetration” and “Hand Covers Bruise, Reprise” are all innocuous at best, and you’ll wish more thought were given to “Magnetic” so it didn’t just end like that. Meanwhile, the chiptune-inspired “Carbon Prevails” is a failed experiment and “On We March” is hindered by that drum sound, which sounds like Trent Reznor listened to “Sound and Vision” just before, but it offsets the song’s atmosphere. And “In the Hall of the Mountain King” – used to add a splash of humour to make us care about two characters we don’t care about as they compete in a boat race – is more or less useless without the film. (Funnily enough, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” was made for Henrik Ibsen, who cared – intentionally or otherwise – about his female characters, while Fincher has been commonly criticized about how he doesn’t care about his; The Social Network is not exempt.)
Oh well: flawed soundtrack for a flawed film, but I’m of the opinion that hiring Trent Reznor to soundtrack his films has been the best decision in David Fincher’s career because Trent Reznor speaks the same languages, and is able to better highlight the atmospheres that Fincher has always been working with. That being said, if this one was too long, I’m sure that the soundtrack to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (nearly three hours long spanning three discs) and the soundtrack to Gone Girl (eighty-six minutes long) are worse. Not too inclined to find out, to tell you the truth.