WHY: Radiohead may have started the charge with In Rainbows, but I think Trent Reznor has taken the whole "bypass the industry" mentality to the next level by making his intentions public, and offering a much wider array of choices for his first experiment in digital downloading. The Ghosts I-IV project was available in multiple formats including lossless audio (something Radiohead didn't come close to offering) for it's $5 price tag, and unlike Radiohead, the profits were made public. People can say what they want about the music contained in Ghosts (a series of 36 instrumental interludes), but financially it was a huge success, and as a thank you Nine Inch Nails last week offered up The Slip, a more mainstream (i.e. it's got vocals) record free of charge.
I've been a huge NIN fan since Pretty Hate Machine, so this one was a no-brainer:
1. 999,999 - More of an intro to the next song than anything else, this is a snippet of ambiance, electronic hissing slowly rising out of the mix of ethereal keyboards.
2. 1,000,000 - Real drums kick in, a dirty fuzzed-out chord erupts, and we're knee-deep in a vicious little rocker. Great raver, Batman, this feels like Pretty Hate Machine a little bit. The different dynamics make everything pop when necessary, and begs to be played at maximum volume.
3. Letting You: More so than the previous track, this sounds like it was mixed in a blender with dirt and small rocks. The Fuzztone is seriously back in. Reznor's vocals are garbled and buried deep in the mix. A lo-fi rager, the chorus constantly repeats "We are letting you get away." Getting away with what? With being awesome, my friends...with being awesome.
4. Discipline: I love the purposefully rough production of these songs. It feels like Year Zero (which I loved) but beaten and bruised and left on the curb to die. "Discipline" has a catchy hook, and plays like a single, except of course there's no record company to push it as a single.
5. Echoplex - Swanky flip-side to "Discipline" this is more menace wrapped in a slow pop beat. On a wholly unrelated note, have you seen Trent Reznor lately? Didn't he used to look like a drowned rat, all skinny and dirty? That guy looks like he could pick me up and throw me over a small building. Just sayin', the dude's huge.
6. Head Down - A little more of the same, and that's the danger of any NIN record - although a lot can happen in each song, there's a sameness that can permeate everything, whether it's the overall production, a certain tone or instrument. By the time we get to the chorus though, my mind's changed and I'm digging on this song. Free or not, this is so far a strong record.
7. Lights in the Sky - Things gets quieter, "Hurt" fashion. The downside of songs like this is that you have to strain to make out what Reznor's saying. I think he's right to have the vocals be so quiet and behind emphasis of the piano, but it's hell trying to make things out. I'm sure that's the point: force you to listen more. It's nice, but doesn't really go anywhere for me.
8. Corona Radiata - Low droning...I look over and see this is going to be the "epic" track, at least in terms of length - over seven minutes. One minute in and the drone is still building, with a barely present melody playing over things. Two minute mark - same thing. Atmosphere music, and as we approach the three minute mark I'm worrying this is all it's going to be. If so, I question why this is the 8th of 10 tracks - I have to sit through seven minutes of this before getting to the next song. Maybe this would work better as a closer, but not here. At the four minute mark we begin to get some percussion, electronic pulses and beats taking over for the drone. After quietly fading the last two minutes begin to build again, perhaps serving as a way too long intro to the next song...
9. The Four of Us are Dying - The beginning is something I think NIN does better than anyone else - that mix of cold electronic and more organic sounds. This doesn't seem to have any vocals either, but musically is a lot more interesting than "Corona Radiata" was. This could have come off of The Downward Spiral or one of its remix singles.
10. Demon Seed - The Slip ends on something a little more rocking than the last two tracks. This is a lot more like his recent stuff. Decent song, kind of right in the middle in terms of quality.
BOTTOM LINE: A- Considering it's free, this album is great - there are a number of solid and above-average tracks. In fact, take off "Corona Radiata" and I would push this up to a solid A. But who am I to tell you? Download it and see for yourself. If you're a fan of NIN in their current iteration you'll love it, and if you think they sold out after Broken maybe you'll find a track or two to like.
Click the image below to go to the site and pick it up: