Review Summary: "Am I still tough enough? Feels like I'm wearing down."
Nine Inch Nails
Null Corporation, 2009
The above lyric, taken from the song 'Discipline', pretty much sums up what Trent Reznor should have thought to himself following the creation and release of this album. You see, this was released a year after the fantastic Year Zero
, a concept album of epic proportions, one that had showed the entity known as Nine Inch Nails evolving and expanding musical horizons. Many of the bad habits that had been so prevalent in The Fragile
and With Teeth
had been eliminated with Year Zero
; the lyrical mishaps were all but destroyed, and the music was more complex and interesting than ever. For a whole year, Nine Inch Nails fans thought that Trent had finally broken out of his former angst-driven cocoon and become a whole new musical force. That is, until he released The Slip
. All of the great musical and lyrical evolution that was found on Year Zero
has been cast aside here. The old Trent, who created With Teeth
has returned, and his bad habits are just as bad as ever.
For starters, the lyrics here are once more cliche and boring, with the tried-and-untrue method of angry songwriting working against Trent. While most of the songwriting is still passable and, at some points, even good, the themes practiced here are certainly not revolutionary. Despite the fact that Trent was (supposedly) clean while working on this album, many of the songs seem to deal with addiction and drugs. The choruses that had once been so catchy and interesting on prior releases often seem bland and uninspired here, particularly 'Letting You', which has an explicitly annoying chorus as well as a rather bland musical backdrop.
The heavy Nine Inch Nails sound, involving plenty of distortion of both guitar and synths, has made a comeback here. 'Echoplex' and 'Head Down' are fine returns to the old sound, with the distorted guitars resembling heavy machinery. Live drums are also used quite extensively here, which, for the most part, is a good thing. 'Head Down' has a very interesting, infectious drum beat that sounds exquisite when coupled with the heavy instrumentation and Trent's angry vocals. The album closer 'Demon Seed' uses excellent speedy drums in contrast to a quiet vocal, which creates an excellent aural effect. As always, excellent production values really help propel the music forward, and improves listens through headphones.
While Trent may certainly not be the best songwriter, or someone with the most original ideas, he is still a great producer. Popular single, 'Discipline' is a perfect example of this. The upbeat song slowly escalates and alters musically, with an epic piano line eventually joining the drumming and eerie ambience. The album opener, '999,999', despite it's short length, is a pretty ambient intro to the album, with many layers of sound mixing together to form a great piece of music. 'The Four Of Us Are Dying' shows more brilliant compositions, coupled with an excellent bass line and some great synthesizers. Finally, the seven minute epic 'Corona Radiata' is a pleasant, lush soundscape that manages to be eerie and entrancing at the same time.
Overall, The Slip
manages to feel rather disappointing, with Trent reverting to his old musical styles instead of attempting to evolve through more experimentation. The instrumental tracks prove to be the most interesting parts of the album, and allow Reznor to show off his composing abilities. Rather bland songwriting and some recycled song structures manage to bog the record down greatly, which is unfortunate, as this has the potential to be an interesting, cohesive album.