Wait? what? Didn?t I just post a Nine Inch Nails review? What do you mean, there?s another one?
Review by Gregory S. Burkart
I swear, Trent Reznor has released more material in the past six months than he did throughout the entire first decade of his recording career. No doubt this creative surge is directly tied to his recent self-liberation from the major labels, and it?s a beautiful thing to see? and hear.
Having shocked and delighted fans back in February with the release of Ghosts ? a multi-format, dual-album collection containing more than two hours of experimental cuts ? the Nails are back a few months later with The Slip, a more straightforward album that continues the dystopian, apocalyptic themes begun in Year Zero. And this time around, it won?t cost you one red cent. In Trent?s own words: ?For your continued and loyal support over the years ? this one?s on me.?
Yes, you read that right. Instead of the ?buyer?s choice? options offered for Ghosts (different levels of quality & quantity and collectible packaging depending on what you?re willing to spend), this time the band is giving away high-quality files in several formats (MP3, FLAC or even uncompressed WAV files) absolutely free ? with future options in the near future for those who want physical CDs in their collection. At this point, Trent?s newfound freedom has practically turned him into that deranged appliance store owner I used to see on local TV ads, screaming ?I must be crazy letting this stuff go at these prices! Somebody lock me up before I kill!?
But just because Reznor?s giving it away now, don?t get the idea that it?s somehow substandard material ? far from it, in fact. Though I wouldn?t consider The Slip artistically groundbreaking, it?s still impressive: a 50-50 blend of the ambient experimentation that dominates Ghosts and muscular, stripped-down, fat-free rock, heavy on distortion and straight beats, with fewer stylistic excesses than its predecessors ? despite the participation of longtime collaborator Alan Moulder, who contributed elaborate production to albums like The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. The result is a solid, many-textured work with a clear dramatic arc. There is still a fair amount of experimentation going on here, but it?s more evident in the way the vocals are recorded and arranged, with unconventional song structures and occasional freeform, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.
Parallels to Year Zero are everywhere, revealed in more than just theme. After the minimalist dark ambient intro ?999,999,? the appropriately titled follow-up ?1,000,000? seems virtually like an explosive re-working of ?Survivalism.? Not a bad thing, because it?s also a gritty, brain-searing rock monster, full of integrated (and mega-fuzzed) synth and guitar riffs. It?s followed by the lightning-fast, vocally intensive ?Letting You? and the ironically titled ?Discipline,? which on my initial listen came across a bit disjointed and? well, undisciplined, but driven by an aggressively bouncy beat that quickly becomes infectious. ?Echoplex,? with its dirty bass line, bottled acoustics and ?Live and Let Die?-style guitar break conveys a sense of isolation and dementia, but seems surprisingly subdued against the urgency of the lyrics. ?Heads Down? is a winner, with a strong first half leading into some wild, crunchy electro-freestyle that would make it a surefire crowd-pleaser if performed live.
The mood then quickly downshifts to ?Lights in the Sky,? a plaintive low-fi piano ballad similar in tone to ?Right Where it Belongs? from With Teeth? and though you?ve heard this kind of thing from Reznor before, it still packs an emotional punch. It segues into another grandiose ambient piece, ?Corona Radiata,? effectively building the sense of doom that dominates the last portion of the album, and escalates the unrest with the industrial-style instrumental ?The Four of Us are Dying.? It sets up a fiery conclusion with ?Demon Seed? ? a chaotic, crazed cut with bursts of oddly-grouped, nearly indecipherable lyrics (don?t worry, they?re included in the download so you can try to keep up). It?s not exactly a radio-friendly track like those in the first half, but a powerful conclusion to the over-arching album theme.
I fully expect to hear several of these cuts surfacing during the band?s forthcoming summer tour (hell yeah I?ll be there, and you?ll hear about it here), and this release should generate a fair amount of buzz for that? which is really why it?s a smart move to give this music away. After all, touring has always been where Nine Inch Nails earns the bulk of their revenue, and they manage to sell out arena-sized venues at every turn. In a business sense, they?re this generation?s Grateful Dead ? they could care less about album sales, because they have enough of a hardcore fanbase to keep them touring for decades, if Trent chooses to do so. It?s the best application of the modern music-biz model I?ve seen, and it works because it keeps the focus on music for its own sake ? and as long as it keeps the fans happy, it?s a self-sustaining system. But that would all be meaningless if this music didn?t blast your face off? which, thankfully, it does, as it has for twenty years now.
Despite a few less memorable entries in this collection, picking up The Slip is a no-brainer, and not just for the legions of NIN converted. I mean, it?s freakin? free, for cryin? out loud! You owe it to yourself to check this one out, and it?s easy ? just head over to nin.com and pick your download option. As always, the files are accompanied by a cool, multi-page PDF of album credits and completely baffling artwork (I?m sure there?s a message encoded in all those stenciled and ink-scribbled symbols, but I?ll leave it to someone else to sort those out). There?s also a bundle of hi-res multi-track files at remix.nin.com for all you aspiring producers who want to craft their own NIN-spin. So now you have absolutely no reason to pass this one up. Go forth, I command thee!