Review Summary: the first less than great NIN album, sadly.
Let’s cut to the point: the computer is, in this day and age, the fourth necessary instrument of the modern band after the holy trinity of guitar, drums, and bass. Digitization has permeated every aspect of music from production (or do you really think that lovely warm garage rock sound Jack white loves is made purely by amplification, surely, dear reader, you’re not that naïve) to distribution. For twenty years now Nine Inch Nails has been mastering that production half, and now, Trent Reznor (NIN’s only real member) has mastered the second.
The Slip is NIN’s seventh full length, and yes it is only available from their official webpage 100% free, which makes reviewing the darn thing a bit of a conundrum. For one, criticizing free music is like criticizing Halloween candy: if you don’t like it don’t eat it, it’s not like you gave anything up to get it. For two, it’s nearly impossible to think about The Slip without thinking about that other free album, Radiohead’s In Rainbows.
Lets’ get that comparison done with: Both albums essentially make the same sounds all the respective band’s other albums made. Unfortunately that breaks their lovely trend of never making the same album twice. Both albums are also a bit short, another moot criticism for something free. In general if you like twisted electronica you’ll prefer The Slip, if you prefer elevator music you’ll prefer In Rainbows, but there’s no excuse not to download both.
NIN’s always been a band squarely focused on the album as a cohesive whole, something they really perfected on last year’s Year Zero (still, for my money, their best album), which makes The Slip a bit frustrating because it’s basically a collection of radio length singles in no particular order. Fortunately for listeners they’re all reminders of just how good Reznor is at cranking out good hooks and catchy choruses. The three instrumental tracks are kind of a letdown considering NIN released a compilation of more interesting instrumental work a few months ago.
Every single has a groovy rock vibe, at times echoing recent efforts by Muse. They range from fast thrashers like “Letting You” to the more contemplative “Echoplex” and album standout “Lights in the Sky”, an above average piano ballad from a group known for them. Still the best cut here may be lead single “Discipline” a rock/industrial/disco chimera that’s sure to have hipsters cranking the soulja boy dance with ignorant glee when NIN headlines Lollapalooza this summer. The cut is so dynamic and catchy that one almost forgets that it’s virtually a redone, if improved, version of “Only” the lead single from With Teeth four years ago. Everything else is strong, but not outstanding.
Therein lays the crux of the album: while it’s strong the whole way through it’s sorely wanting for high points and would-be classic songs. “Discipline” is great but its no “Closer (to God)”, and “Lights in the Sky” will never be “Hurt” try thought it might.
Still one gets the impression that this is not an album for critics. The Slip will not make a NIN fan out of anybody who does not already love them. This CD is an in joke, a gift, a thank you to Reznor’s fans for their patience with his recent experiments, even if some of said experiments (read: Year Zero) eclipse it. Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?
If you already get the joke sit back and enjoy, even if you already know the punchline; it’s everyone else who Reznor’s given the slip, in a sense.