Everyone likes free stuff. Think about the first time you ever unlawfully downloaded a song, album, or movie. Illegal file sharing appeals to that kleptomaniacal urge and/or thrift-shop bargain-hunter in all of us. But it’s only a thrill when the product is a steal; when it’s not, you’re just glad you didn’t piss your money away at iTunes or Bloomies. Unfortunately, that’s the situation with Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip, which—on the heels of the similarly released instrumental album Ghosts I - IV and, of course, Radiohead’s In Rainbows—is being offered up by Trent Reznor for free. The underlying pop sensibility of Reznor’s music, even in his most aggressive work (“Closer” is the most honest slice of male-hetero lust-pop ever played on the radio), has been slowly stripped away over the years. Individual songs on The Slip aren’t particularly dynamic; the album has two levels: loud (“1,000,000” features all the chainsaw- and motorcycle engine-guitars we’ve come to expect from NIN) and soft (“Lights in the Sky” is a tuneless, minimalist piano dirge). One of the few exceptions is “Corona Radiata,” which slowly builds from spacey arpeggios and planetarium atmospherics to a quiet storm of ambient house beats, distant guitar drones, digitized cat screeches, and babies crying. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to relate to Reznor’s stunted self-deprecation, but I do appreciate both his latter-day politics and his more grown-up existential examinations—you know, the ones that go beyond mere self-hatred. “Letting You” addresses the “politics of greed,” with lots of smoke stacks, black skies, and civil complacency, but he’s recorded this song before, and more sardonically (“Capitol G”). That song is one of several gems from last year’s Year Zero, and 2005’s With Teeth has appreciated over time; The Slip, on the other hand, is more likely to leave you with a mild case of buyer’s remorse. That is, if you’d actually paid for it.
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