Listening Booth: Nine Inch Nails, “The Slip”

Written by Listening Booth, Music

Trent Reznor strikes again.

So, Ghosts I-IV didn’t satisfy your hunger, it wasn’t like a “real” Nine Inch Nails album, it was instrumental, it didn’t count? Well, that’s fine. ‘Cause here’s another Nine Inch Nails album: The Slip, released just last week. And not only can you download it for free, but you couldn’t pay for it if you wanted to. This album is freer than the air you breathe, and Reznor isn’t going to take your money for it. Quite the opposite, in fact: he released it under a share-alike license, meaning he encourages you to remix it, play with it, post it on your blog, put it on your radio show, use it to stimulate your own creativity. Yeah, that Reznor’s a pretty stand-up guy.

Aesthetically, The Slip sounds like a composite of Nine Inch Nails’ last two proper releases, With Teeth and Year Zero. From Year Zero it borrows some of the grit and bombast, mish-mashed together with the occasional tendency towards hooks that made With Teeth so accessible. The result is an album that those not intimately acquainted with Reznor’s output might enjoy alongside those who know all the ins-and-outs. Initiates will likely be drawn to “Discipline” and “Echoplex,” the bouncier cuts from the album, while veterans may gravitate towards the aggression and complexity of “Head Down” and “Demon Seed.”

Nine Inch Nails, “Letting You” (download)

As per usual, Reznor’s lyrical content is rife with politics, the struggle for power and control and alienation, and he’s simultaneously confused and determined about all three. “Letting You” is the most obviously politically charged. “You train us how to act / you keep the fear intact / the imminent attack,” he sings before hitting the chorus of, “We do just what we’re told / and we are letting you get away.” When he reaches that second line of the chorus, he sounds almost murderous. But then on the next track, “Discipline,” he laments the lack of an authority figure, admitting, “I need your discipline / because once I start I cannot stop myself.”

He seems as trapped in his own world as ever, but still not comfortable. In “1,000,000,” he claims, “I still haven’t found my place,” but warns, on “Echoplex,” that “you will never get to me in here,” which he repeats relentlessly through the end of the song. “Head Down” could read like Reznor having a conversation with himself, as he claims in one verse, “this is not my face / this is not my life / and there is not a single thing here / I can recognize,” before asking in the next verse, “hey you / what are you running from?” Immediately after “Head Down” comes “Lights in the Sky,” a darkly romantic piano tune where he assures someone, “I’ll follow you down / and I am here right beside you.”

Nine Inch Nails, “Lights in the Sky” (download)

The Slip is yet another fine effort from a man who seems able to churn them out these days — but the bottom line is that, since this album is completely free for the taking, it shouldn’t be a hard sell.