19 May, 2008

Album Review - Nine Inch Nails' Halo 27 "The Slip"

Release Date: May 5, 2008
Label: [none]
Distribution: Digital Download from theslip.nin.com
Price: FREE!
No. of Tracks: 10

Ahhh. It's good the have the old Trent Reznor back. In Nine Inch Nails' most recent releases (With Teeth, Year Zero, Ghosts I-IV), we saw a side of Trent that almost no one ever imagined that we would. The music was extroverted, funkier, and dare I say almost happy. Sure, there were still the undercurrents of angst and rebellion, especially on Year Zero with its largely political theme. Even the distribution method of Ghosts I-IV could be construed as compassionate towards the fans with its multiple-format $5 digital download of the collection and even free download of the first installment of Ghosts. Even this album is available 100% free by visiting http://theslip.nin.com/.

That's where the happy train stops. The Slip is a return for Trent and NIN to the days of Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral-type anger and disgust peppered with the same quiet sonic experimentation that made The Fragile such a disturbingly beautiful album. When present, the guitars are once again loud, fuzzy, and brutal. The drums are back to their old fast-all-the-time pace and thundering force in most offerings. Trent is even snarling from time to time in his lyrical delivery, and he avoids the temptation to overtly wax poetic. The production also focuses less on the late NIN trend of melody and more on the dissonant, Industrial sonic explosion and quiet evolution.

The album begins with a short instrumental lead-in titled "999,999". The best I can do to describe it is a cross between a bass playing the part of sonar or a radio transmission frequency hum, light repeating keyboard contractions, and a scuba diver breathing underwater. This transitions into the violent "1,000,000" that reminds the listener of songs like "March of the Pigs". "1,000,000", like many of the tracks on the album, address Trent dealing with his falling out with the record industry as a whole. He paints a very clear image of the situation with his line "Put the gun/In my mouth/Close your eyes/Blow my fucking brains out/Pretty patterns/On the floor/It's enough for you/But I still need more." He also "Don't feel anything at all." "Letting You" is another politically charged song, but much more direct than anything on Year Zero. In fact, subtleties and hidden meanings are completely absent from this recording, which is something new for Trent especially following the hidden mystery hullabaloo surrounding Year Zero. "Discipline", the first single from the release, is the most mainstream of the tracks with a funky melody, slightly more subdued guitars, and piano. In this song, Trent openly deals with his feelings of whether he is actually losing his edge and even relevance. He reasons that he needs the same discipline that his long-time fans have shown over the past 20 years and even their help in digging his way out of the mire. "Echoplex", the second single, is a statement to the record industry in general. He snarls and whispers "You chip away the old version of you/You'd be surprised what you can do/I'm safe in here/irrelevant/Just like they said/My voice just echoes off these walls." He closes the song by taunting "You will never get to me in here." "Lights in the Sky" is this album's attempt to recreate "The Fragile", only this song is exclusively vocals and piano. It does indeed deal with the same theme of undying loyalty no matter what the consequences to the girl du-jour in Trent's head. "Corona Radiata" and "The Four of Us Are Dying" are two The Fragile-like instrumentals that flow together in a 12-minute meandering voyage through quiet sonic landscapes that ebb and flow with sorrow. The album closes with the fitting song "Demon Seed" in which Trent discloses that he is nearing the end of his long battle with the "other self", stating "Now I know exactly what I am" as the music swells to embrace his proclamation.

If you were in a bind to share with someone exactly what NIN was in the first 10 years (just pretend that person exists, OK?) and didn't have time to make a representative playlist from those albums, The Slip would be a highly effective alternative. For me, it plays like a nostalgic trip through the teenage years. But despite the obvious attempts to not be so damn hopeful this time around, there is a confidence behind what Trent is doing now that translates as a sort of hope. He has not lost his relevance, and he has not lost his direction. What he has found though is acceptance with both himself and his surroundings. He's still pissed off about what he sees, but the ability to finally understand makes all the difference.

Essential Tracks: "1,000,000", "Echoplex", "Head Down", "Demon Seed"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 3.8

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