Trent Reznor, the leader of Nine Inch Nails
, released The Slip
through the band’s website for free with a note thanking his fans and saying, “This one’s on me.” That sort of statement might lead one to think that The Slip
is a dashed-off, halfhearted affair, but the album is actually a tight, affecting suite of songs that touch on Nine Inch Nails’ major strengths without feeling like a mere rehash of past efforts. What did we do to deserve such a great (free) album?
An Artist Evolving
Since their debut with 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine
, Nine Inch Nails have been celebrated for Trent Reznor’s skill at turning personal pain into stirring hard rock, mixing elements of industrial and techno within a melodic song structure. But rather than being a one-trick pony, Reznor has managed to evolve over the years, refining that pain and making his angry, disillusioned music more nuanced. 2007’s Year Zero
found Reznor refocusing after the familiar angst of With Teeth
, but while The Slip
isn’t as overtly political as Year Zero
was, it’s equally focused on sharp tunes whose impact is immediate. As an added bonus, The Slip
feels relatively effortless, which is rare for Nine Inch Nails albums since they are usually laboriously worked over and feel so dense that they require extra spins to fully digest. By Reznor’s standards, The Slip
is practically easy-listening, although its coiled fury will easily scare away the faint of heart.
A Movie for the Mind
When Nine Inch Nails released their breakthrough album, 1994’s The Downward Spiral
, Reznor suggested that the record needed to be heard straight through from beginning to end to understand what he was attempting to accomplish. Although this is a familiar request from artists, a Nine Inch Nails album actually deserves the courtesy because Reznor creates such drama from track to track. The Slip
is no different, as it moves from the hesitant opening notes of “999,999” into the exploding guitar energy of “1,000,000,” setting the stage for the rest of the record’s exploration of doubt and general uneasiness. Even when you don’t tune into the lyrics, the songs’ dynamic shifts create a rise-and-fall emotional through-line that’s quite engaging.
A Quieter, Scarier Nine Inch Nails
Though his fans associate him with aggressive guitar rock, Reznor really only lashes out musically for about half of The Slip. While “Demon Seed” and others are effective, the album’s best moments occur when he flips the script, trying out other sonic strategies. Instrumentals have been part of his repertoire for quite some time, but the two that show up near the end of The Slip – “The Four of Us Are Dying” and “Corona Radiata” – are among his best ever, tense and unnerving without feeling indulgent. Plus, he comes up with a great piano ballad in “Lights in the Sky,” an eerily calm snapshot of the end of the world. Reznor’s always been as much of a mood-maker as he is a songwriter, and The Slip conjures up tons of great cinematic atmosphere.
While it probably won’t rank with the very best Nine Inch Nails albums, The Slip
is a smart sampling of what Trent Reznor can do – tough rockers, moody instrumentals and beautiful piano ballads. Almost 20 years after his first record, Reznor demonstrates he remains a vital creative force we’re lucky to have around.
“The Four of Us Are Dying”
“Lights in the Sky”
Release date – May 5, 2008