I wonder what happened to Trent Reznor so that he has undergone a personal renaissance. Nine Inch Nails have released 3 single albums and 1 double album in the past 3 years. That is a lot of material, and the thing is the music has been of a pretty high quality.
In early May, Reznor surprised the world by releasing The Slip as a free download on his website, and this just two months after the two-disc instrumental set Ghosts I - IV. (Side Note: who would have thought that a Nine Inch Nails could release 110 minutes of instrumental music that is actually interesting?) So why has he suddenly become so hyper-productive?
I am not sure, but The Slip, like the rest of his recent output, is pretty worthwhile. It is not his strongest overall release of late (The Year Zero is more consistent), but it features several great tunes. In fact, there is a 5-song stretch that is among his best ever.
The album starts with 999,999, a slow burning ambient tune in which hushed washes of sound slowly build in volume, as does Reznor's mostly muted voice. It suddenly flows into 1,000,000 which features a great drum riff, some intense fuzzed out guitar, and Reznor screaming about suicide as the beat and guitar fury builds to a delirious frenzy. Everything you want in a Nine Inch Nails tune.
The next song, Letting You sounds almost like it could have been an out-take from The Year Zero. Reznor's voice, buried in distortion bellows "we are letting you get away". I guess he couldn't get it to work in the concept of that album, but it seems pretty close. And it's another good driving tune.
The beat of Letting You cuts suddenly, and a wonderful loping drum riff starts. This is Discipline, the radio single from the album. This has a deep groove, and Reznor sings more than he screams. It's a good danceable tune, and one of his best in recent years. Oh sure, he's been doing good work, but nothing that really hailed back the days when industrial music was designed for the dance floor. Discipline does that. I am sure it gets the black hair dye and nail polish fans bouncing along happily. Good stuff.
My favorite song on the record is next, the synthpoppy Echoplex. This song features a frenetic drum machine and thumping bass backing Reznor's gaspy voice as he sings about solipsism, the same theme he explored in Only my favorite track on With Teeth. Hmmmm. It seems both Reznor and i am somewhat obsessed with this idea. What a disturbing coincidence. At any rate, this song moves along at a really happy rate.
Head Down is more about distortion than synthpop. There are drums and guitar here, both buried deep under layers of fuzz and distortion, in contrast to Reznor's clean voice bellowing the lyrics. On the chorus this song explodes with layers of chiming guitar that nicely accompany his sudden singing. Nicely done.
After those 5 songs in a row of fast, energetic rockers, Reznor breaks it up with Lights in the Sky. This is a Reznor piano ballad, him tinkling the ivories as he sings breathily. I find this song to be vaguely creepy, i think because he is almost whispering the whole time.
The piano fades into Corona Radiata, an 8 minute instrumental of subtle synth drones that slowly fades into a guitar and slow drumbeat finale. It's a nice tune, for all its simplicity, and again points to the fact that Nine Inch Nails make interesting music even without the singing. I wonder if this is an outtake from Ghosts I - IV?
Four of Us Are Dying is the most electronica sounding song on The Slip. The drumbeats are fully machine and completely inorganic, but it is the repeated bass riff that drives the song. This is another instrumental, and it moves along nicely.
Finally, the record ends with Demon Seed, which features a nice keyboard drone and some ferocious drumming. Reznor is whispering under the guitar lines, just letting the music carry itself while he adds a very slight accent to it. It's rather nice, and ends the album on an upbeat note.
Overall, i am impressed. This is a quality album, and the fact that anyone can download it for free is kind of amazing. So, really, what are you waiting for? You have nothing to lose.