Trent Reznor and the Thanks-,-I-Guess Award

If anything, you have to give the man points for effort: Trent Reznor’s recent decision to give his newest album away completely for free is perhaps the apex of his actions in the last year (guerilla marketing campaign, telling fans to steal his album from his label, breaking from said label, releasing an album on his own for a reasonable price and making millions). While not a new idea, Reznor is the first to do it correctly. While Radiohead were the first major band to release their album technically for free, they did it via a pay-what-you-like method, which allowed “buyers” to possibly pay nothing for the album, which used good, old fashioned Catholic/Jewish guilt to make the few suckers that paid for the album pay for it (I paid 2 and a half pounds for it, which, compared to the American dollar at the time, was probably roughly $16.50). The files were also only available in low quality mp3, which while 9 out of 10 couldn’t tell the difference, Reznor publicly took issue with this. For both The Slip and Ghosts (the latter his 4 album instrumental piece released a month and a half ago for $5, which I also bought, like a sucker) were available in a variety of formats, from high quality mp3s to audiophile-approved files that even bested CDs. While this in no way means Radiohead were ripping off their fans, they were the first to do it, and had yet to perfect. If there’s a better way to give your album away for free via the Internet, I think the general public may physically choke on gratitude.

The main problem with giving your album away for free, though, is the issue of the quality of your album. Who gives a shit, right???? Well, 47 mb of one’s hard drive does, and for me, 13 years of being a Nine Inch Nails fan does. The Radiohead album was interesting in the respect that it was a subtle return to form for them: relatively stripped down songs that were tuneful as well as pretty guitar based. It would have been an exceptional album had it been released on a major label and gone through the whole outdated cycle that the release of the album set out to destroy. Though they don’t properly rock again, it’s a step in the right direction, and In Rainbows definitely grows on you. It also doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed by its method of release. The Slip, though, feels like it may be.

The first proper album by a major band to be released for free feels, well, a little slight. This, though, isn’t necessarily the fault of the marketing scheme or the hype, but the fact that Nine Inch Nails, since their ceremonious comeback in 2005, have been lacking in certain departments. One sort of feels like a dick in saying that, being that a) the big change Reznor went through in Nine Inch Nails’ haitus was kicking a nasty coke and tequila habit and b) for years, Nine Inch Nails fans have been bitching about Reznor’s complete lack of prolificness (3 full lengths and one EP in the span of the band’s first ten years while Reznor’s now released more than that in last three) and now that he’s broken that streak, I’m displeased because he’s not putting out exactly what I want to hear. That being said, if I didn’t have an opinion on things, I’d be listening to Nickelback and married to a girl in a cat sweater in suburban Delaware.

The Slip suffers from the same things With Teeth did: instead of a rousing return to form, it feels a little more like aggro-Nine Inch Nails by numbers (words Trent Reznor is not allowed to use anymore: “myself”, “knees” and a combination of “nothing” and “matters). And while Reznor’s fuzzy wall of guitars, synthesized noise, and barking tenor can sometimes feel like a fond trip back to the angry days of your youth, the anger in the first five proper songs feels canned, and much like a can of ravioli, it tastes fine and even hits the spot every now and again, but a steady diet of it will soon result in not being hungry for it anymore. And while some tweaks work (latter Nine Inch Nails records have the best fucking live drum sound put to record this side of a Steve Albini-engineered record), the rest don’t. Fortunately, this only plagues half the record.

The ironic thing is that Ghost I-IV was an impenetrable work overall due to the fact that it was 2+ hours of instrumental noodling, and the best tracks on its straightforward followup are “Corona Radiata” and “The Four of Us are Dying”, The Slip‘s two instrumental tracks. That being said, Ghosts‘ problem was a lack of focus, and “Corona” and “Four of Us” are both very focused and pleasing, managing to be more evocative than two hours of same-y ambient space. The other strange thing about The Slip is its critical response: it seems to be focused on the rock half of the record, when the most interesting part of it is its more experimental tracks. “Lights in the Sky” is the best Nine Inch Nails ballad yet, mainly due to the fact that it’s not drowning in its own histrionics, as Nine Inch Nails ballads tend to do. “Demon Seed” is built around an insistent beat and a droning synthesizer, loose and slippery bass line, and sporadic bursts of static-y guitar, bringing the record to a lively close after a few tracks of ambient goodness. It sounds like Nine Inch Nails moving beyond returning to form and forming into something else altogether, much like quiet half of With Teeth and most of last year’s Year Zero.

Of course, this is all overshadowed by the fact that we didn’t pay a damn dime for this record. And who knows, maybe like In Rainbows, this record will grow on me as well. Perhaps we’re expecting too much instant gratification from these records due to the instantaneous fashion in which we procured them. But the idea of a band or a band’s piece of work growing on the listener is exactly what major labels have been rejecting for the last 7 or 8 years, and exactly what Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are railing against. So we’d be stupid not to expect the most challenging work of the bands’ careers in this, and hopefully, their most rewarding.

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