Chandler, Arizona, United States

There's an old saying. If you don't want someone to join a crowd, you ask them, "If everyone were jumping off of a cliff, would you?" Well, I have. So my answer would be "Yes". True story.
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Review of Nine Inch Nails, The Slip

Saturday, June 21, 2008

this entry brought to you by primus, "wounded knee"

Sometimes it's annoying to read reviews about a particular artist's work and have it constantly compared to something else. A new artist will always be compared to other artists; an established artist's work will always be compared to his best work, if not to at least the work before it. Sometimes an album will be so different than its predecessor that it sounds alienating, and initial reactions are negative; it's often only years later that it's appreciated for what it is. Other times, an album will sound too similar to its predecessor, and it comes off as a let down because it doesn't do enough-- again, it's not until years later that it can be appreciated on its own merits.

The thing is, I love With Teeth, Reznor's follow-up to his double-CD opus (and, in my opinion, Nine Inch Nails' watermark), The Fragile, and I loved it when I first heard it. It had a perceptible live-sounding quality, as if it were recorded all at once with a whole band, it sounded urgent, and visceral. The problem was, with five years between it and The Fragile, it didn't sound nearly as urgent as I thought Reznor wanted it to feel. Had it been released two years after Fragile, it would've come off as fresh and exciting, and with Reznor's historical track record of taking five years between records, it needed an album fresh off its heals to keep its moment fresh. Then a funny thing happened: Reznor started releasing a whole metric shit-ton after With Teeth, with Year Zero an astonishingly quick (in NIN standards) two years later; a mere year after that, Reznor released Ghosts I-IV, 36 full tracks of gorgeous, surprisingly well-realized instrumentals. Mind-boggingly, there's been yet another Nine Inch Nails release, this time a full LP, just a touch longer than two months after Ghosts, which is called The Slip.

The reason I mention this is because some fans prefer their reviews in a void where nothing else exists, to stand up or die on its own merits, without being compared to anything else. If this were the way you'd look at The Slip, I feel that it would sound great, that it would be a very satisfying, nuanced Nine Inch Nails record that, perhaps, failed to live up to the albums that came before it. It sounds a bit like Radiohead's In Rainbows in that it feels like a stop-gap album. But while I gave Radiohead a demerit for that very quality, Nine Inch Nails is getting a bonus point. Allow me to explain: Radiohead's In Rainbows is a great album on its own merits, but it has been the only Radiohead album in 5 years, and while it feels solid, it feels less fully realized than albums preceding it. It's a solid record on its own, with gorgeous, wonderful songs. It also feels less vital than the critics would have you believe; if it had been merely a commercial release like any other CD, instead of a free download for the masses, it would've been hailed as merely a great album, rather than the hyperbole that surrounded In Rainbows, which benefited greatly from its place in history rather than the music itself.

The Slip, on the other hand, feels like a between-projects album that was a sudden burst of inspiration that Reznor had to get recorded right now. It has a sense of immediacy that is perfectly captured by both the notes on the record but in its timing as well; instead of giving us the promised sequel to Year Zero, The Slip is an unexpected gift under the Christmas tree.

The songs are great, too. Instead of giving us a imaginary tale of a post-apocalyptic future, as in what will be the inevitable Year Zero sequel, The Slip is instead a sequel to With Teeth; this time recorded with his full touring band (a Nine Inch Nails first). Thematically, he returns to exploring self doubt, his fixation on a digital, industrial-tinged blues, which is normal Nine Inch Nails territory. While he doesn't exactly offer any surprises in the theme department, his lyrics have taken a tic upward, such as in the enthusiastic self-doubting party starter "1,000,000", with its open hi-hat/snare pound and its call-and-response shout-alongs ("Put the gun! To my mouth! Close your eyes! Blow my fucking brains out!"-- this would sound disturbing and make you scared for Reznor's mental health, except its growled with such grinning vigor you can't help but shout along); or in the pounding dance beat and groovy bass line of "Discipline", which is the most fun a gritty pop song about feeling old and needing a loving ass-kicking you've ever heard. There is also the dirgey "Head Down", with its growling, swarming guitars, that finds Reznor pleading "And this is all a dream/ and none of you are real/ I'll give anything". But the center of the album is a the quiet, sparse, hauntingly hushed piano ballad "Lights in the Sky", with Reznor singing in the most muted, touching voice he's ever used, "Watching you drown/ I'll follow you down/ and I am right beside you".

This is powerful, dense stuff for Reznor, and obviously more personal than anything he's written. While the production makes The Slip sound like a cross between With Teeth's live band feel and The Fragile's studio mastery (although without the feeling that Reznor spent 5 years getting everything just so), this album is still feels fresh and off-the-cuff, and its timing of release maximizes that feel. If Trent Reznor had spent five years before releasing it, as he did before The Fragile's release in 1999, and With Teeth's release in 2005, The Slip would've seemed like a disappointment, great songs, but on an album that somehow wouldn't feel vital without having anything specifically wrong with it; much like my feelings towards Radiohead's In Rainbows, which I feel is a great album that would've felt greater had it been released in 2005 or even 2006-- enough to live up to its hyperbole, anyway. It seems like an odd comparison, but In Rainbows and The Slip are both equally good, and I would call them both four star albums.

with love from CRS @ 9:38 AM 


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