On May 5, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor announced that the band’s latest album, The Slip, was available as a free download, an act that’s about as charitable as donating a blank CD to your roommate. Sure, it’s worth taking, but even at 44 music-filled minutes, this album is definitely missing something, at least until listeners tweak it with their own personal touches.
The Slip was released under Creative Commons, a label that encourages fans to remix the band’s music themselves. That’s all well and good, but NIN already released a 36-track instrumental album, Ghosts I-IV a couple weeks earlier. Unlike that experimental record, The Slip adheres to strict rules that only serve to hinder creativity.
The reflective, alienated Nine Inch Nails of the ’90s is pretty much gone; these days, the band seems to be stuck in anti-Bush anger mode. Seven of the 10 tracks are introduced with a fast, authoritative drumbeat. But this forceful energy just sounds forced by the time the final percussion-driven song bangs its way into your eardrums. At least the band’s anger on 2005’s With Teeth and 2007’s Year Zero actually sounded genuine.
Melody-wise, The Slip is stripped down to the point where it seems like a second guitarist forgot to show up to the studio. On “1,000,000,” the guitar work is mostly limited to a couple variations of the same short riff. This minimalist approach adds nothing to lyrics as mundane and uninspired as, “Kind of hard / Kind of hard / Hard to see / Hard to see / When you crawl / When you crawl / On your hands and knees.” It’s dull enough hearing Reznor once again discuss submission ad nauseam, but did he really have to go and sing every line twice?
The theme of submission resonates especially clearly through “Discipline.” The song’s texture is composed primarily of a deliberately monotonous drumbeat and a few variations of the same short guitar riff – sound familiar? – but the introduction of a keyboard midway through helps distinguish the track from the rest of the album’s tedium. However, the controlled order of the background music contradicts Reznor’s claim that “I need your discipline / You know once I start I cannot help myself.” The music already sounds too disciplined as it is.
What happened to the band’s past intensity that was so prevalent on impassioned classics such as “Closer” and “Hurt,” or even more recent, poppy hits like “The Hand That Feeds”? Maybe a disappointed fan or DJ can salvage The Slip. If not, the strong rhythms are at least engaging enough to be relegated to the gym-going playlist on your iPod.