Nine Inch Nails: The Slip
“This one’s on me,” wrote Nine Inch Nails creative core, Trent Reznor, on the band’s official website, giving away his latest endeavour for free — and, like its predecessor ‘Ghosts I-IV’, without any pre-release mention — in five different audio formats: a brilliant move that subtly snubbed both the traditional methods of the music industry, as well as the then-recently released tip-as-you-see-fit ‘In Rainbows’ by Radiohead.
Reznor’s latest offering contains the furtive ambiguity that can be expected from NIN lyrics; they can be interpreted differently by each individual listener, even with each individual listen. Rebellious undercurrents of moodiness and seriousness pervade the entire album, but occasionally the music veers into a softer, almost decadent elegance, as on the delicate “Lights in the Sky”. However, the opening beats of most of the tracks possess a certain punk-like quality which immediately lassos the unwary listener into Reznor’s crumbling yet carefully restrained chaos.
Brooding themes of a cerebral quality distinguish the urgent, intense, thoughtful music. One such important topic is Reznor’s anxiety of fading away. He elaborates on this in “Head Down”, talking about his outlook on his career, the music industry, and the influence of the former on the latter, all seen through the gray tint of maturity and experience. His fears of being “all used up” resurface on the album’s only single, “Discipline”: “Am I still tough enough?” he sings, “Am I losing ground?” The song could be interpreted as a plea from the noted perfectionist to his fans, asking them to keep him in the creative sphere, and save him from the distress of fading out (but of course, as any NIN song, that is only one possible elucidation). “Echoplex”, too, talks of his seeming imperceptibility, yet how he eschews the people helping him deal with this very complex.
The other major theme of the album seems to be about a bleak, oppressive dystopia, with Reznor as a seething sufferer of the system, a blend of pre-Ludovico Alex and Winston Smith. In “Letting You”, he warns a near-totalitarian, war-obsessed nation that he’s just barely tolerating its methods of inducing fear and hate. Several other songs also hint at this dystopian universe. In “Demon Seed”, the album’s emphatic closer, he seems on the verge of breaking free from the shackles of this same tyrannical regime, realising that the human element in him — the “demon seed” — can be roused from dormancy to an explosive power. The dystopian theme is further enhanced by the song art, which often features a simple, futuristic shape on varying shades of machine-grey.
In “Lights in the Sky”, he embarks on an unexpected foray into emotive, piano-driven crooning about the loss of a loved one. The instrumental track “The Four of Us Are Dying” is as epic as it sounds, full of sonic textures and melancholy melodies that subtly capture all the moods and hints scattered throughout the rest of the album. However, the other instrumental track, “Corona Radiata”, feels a shade too long, at more than a quarter of the running time. Despite patches of understated brilliance, this meandering track is the weakest of the bunch.
The open-ended lyrics may be off-putting for the casual listeners, and the entire feel is perhaps too sinister. However, the unique beauty and intelligence of “The Slip” should make up for these points. Highly recommended for NIN fans, and worth a few listens for everyone else as well.