A lot of something for nothing
There are two kinds of Nine Inch Nails fans, those who prefer The Downward Spiral, and those who prefer The Fragile. It’s not that they can’t get along, just that’s there’s a distinct difference of opinion where that’s concerned. There are those who will tell you that The Downward Spiral will always be Trent Reznor’s finest hour, one of the greatest albums of the 90s and one that still sounds as fresh and delightfully out there today as it did back then. Everybody who owned a copy either got drunk or high, had sex, contemplated suicide or some combination of all three while listening to it. Even ‘Hurt,’ despite being hijacked by babygoths who needed song lyrics to quote on their MySpace pages, and then blown out of the water by Johnny Cash’s cover, still holds up pretty well. Those who prefer its follow-up The Fragile will tell you it’s Trent’s epic masterpiece, nearly two hours of pure, snarling industrial rock excellence, with a little bit of hip hop, some KISS samples, and a pretty little piano tune called ‘La Mer’ to keep you on your toes. It’s one of his darkest albums, though that seems to suggest he has light albums (probably the closest you’ll get to an “upbeat” NIN album is the danceable With Teeth). I’m of the former camp, The Downward Spiral has long been one of my desert island discs, I have the original copy I bought back in 1994, and honestly I’m amazed I haven’t worn the lettering off of it yet. It warrants more relistens and new appreciation than any other release from that time period (yes, even Nevermind). Just recently I rediscovered the joy of ‘The Becoming,’ a real audio bonecruncher that ends with Trent’s voice tweaked to a mechanical shriek, repeating it won’t give up/it wants me dead/goddamn this noise inside my head, until dwindling out to a chorus of moaning. It shouldn’t work at all, this psychotic jumble of noise and lyrics, and yet it does, tremendously. It’ll put you in a loony bin if you listen to it enough times, but it works.
I try to avoid comparing each new Nine Inch Nails release to The Downward Spiral, appreciating it on its own merits. With Teeth was just fun, while Year Zero, last year’s concept album, featured what turned out to be one of my all-time favorite NIN songs in ‘Zero Sum.’ None has quite measured up completely, but neither have they entirely failed either; that is to say, even Nine Inch Nails’ worst album is still a lot better than much of the crap clogging up the record bins. Such as is with their (his? I never know) latest release, The Slip.
Now, before I go on, I should probably point out that The Slip is available as an absolutely free download from Nine Inch Nails’ official website. All you need is a valid e-mail address, so you really have nothing to lose by just going ahead, downloading it, and listening to it for yourself, regardless of what I say. That being said, the first question that comes to mind when trying to write such a review is “Would I have been willing to pay full price for this?” Well, yes, I would. This is a complete album, not an EP, or a bunch of remixes, or throwaways from other albums. And not only is it good, it was also released under a Creative Commons license, meaning that, provided proper credit is given and no profit is made from it, you can do whatever the hell you want with the music, which makes the “free” aspect of it all the more remarkable.
The Slip clocks in at a brisk forty-three minutes, with very little filler. Interestingly, it opens quietly, with the ambient, instrumental ‘999,999,’ and closes hard with ‘Demon Seed.’ Much of the first half of the album is the classic, driving dance-industrial music Trent does best. He’s not mining any new territory here (the fourth track, ‘Discipline,’ sounds quite a bit like ‘The Hand That Feeds,’ the first single from With Teeth), but even the old familiar works. However, the real highlights start coming well past the halfway point, first with the mournful piano piece ‘Lights in the Sky.’ That’s followed by the seven and a half minute long ‘Corona Radiata,’ a spooky instrumental that could be used in some sort of combination planetarium/live sex show. Now there’s a great idea, a combination planetarium/live sex show, and here I am just throwing it out to the wolves. ‘Corona Radiata’ ends with something that sounds like cats fighting before going into another instrumental, ‘The Four of Us are Dying,’ a track that would be right at home in a strip club. Mind you, in this case that’s a compliment.
The only weak points on The Slip are ‘Echoplex’ and ‘Head Down,’ mainly because they just sound like Trent entered some lyrics into a Nine Inch Nails song generator and those were the result. Regardless, like sex and pizza, even mediocre Nine Inch Nails is still pretty good.