Trent Reznor’s first new album in, a whopping two months (has it been that long really?) is a super human oddity. During my first spin of The Slip, I was scratching my head trying to get a grasp on the album. I know I wasn’t the only one. Chalk it up to getting used to the atmospheric laments of Ghosts. The first track “999,999” is a “Pinion” like instrumental preamble from Broken. Then at the final moment, Trent’s voice comes out announcing “How did I slip into?”
From there, “1,000, 000” starts off with an “All Along the Watchtower” drumbeat and turns into vintage Nine Inch Nails aggro sounds a-la The Downward Spiral. Reznor sounds as if he’s singing about a superhero: “I jump from every rooftop/ so far so high so tall/ I feel a million miles away/ I don’t feel anything at all.” At first listen it sounds as if maybe Trent’s trying to get this song on a soundtrack to one of the Marvel motion picture adaptations. But I like to think he’s talking about himself and his own band.
A better explanation for The Slip and “1,000,000” is that they’re about how he feels about starting the music revolution. His voice is the one that jumps from rooftop to rooftop through this new and different channel. He is the ultimate underground idol to all of his fans. He is the savior to those who wait on his every move. Yet like a superhero, he keeps his audience at distance.
Nine Inch Nails is Trent’s alter-ego; it’s his lyrical suit of armor that he fits into, through which to release his super human songs. He goes on tour in this guise to appease his nation of a million fans. But do we really know the man behind the mask? Does it really matter? I think the enigma and mystery of it all is something that makes this man and his band invincible. With the release of The Slip they are breaking the rules and they are changing the game on their own terms. It’s a powerful thing.
Speaking of power, check out the industrial strength noise fest “Letting Go.” This is one of the most metal thrashers that Trent has ever released in his lifetime. Think Broken times ten. “Letting Go” continues the themes of government control that Trent first unleashed on Year Zero. This time with “Letting Go,” he is letting all of his angst on to the legion of Americans who allow our leaders to steer us towards constant decline. The music sounds like sonic death march towards hell. It’s a call to arms to a nation of young Americans to wake up to get up and stand up for their rights, lyrically and otherwise.
Next comes the first single, “Discipline” which is one the major disappointments of The Slip. It has all the elements to be a killer “The Hand that Feeds”-like single for Nine Inch Nails but doesn’t really go anywhere. I just don’t like the way that Alan Moulder mixed this song. I prefer the Centipede remix that you can find on NIN.com. By the way, this is a wonderful service that was created by Trent himself. He has allowed his fans to remix any and all of his songs. That way, if you feel you can create a better version of any of these tracks from The Slip or any of his other songs, he challenges you to remix and post them on remix.nin.com.
I sensed a New Order theme in the second half of The Slip. The drumbeat of “Echoplex” echoes New Order’s “Thieves like Us.” Maybe it was done on purpose as an ode to one of the godfathers of electronic music. I can definitely relate to the chorus of “Echoplex”: “My voice just echoes off these walls.” I live in a dungeon like room with no windows in the basement of a townhouse apartment. The sound of “Echoplex” reflects on how it feels to live in a world underground without light.
What I do find impressive on The Slip are all the little subtleties throughout the album. I love the way the music stops towards the latter half of “1,000,000” after Trent sings “I don’t feel anything at all,” and then picks up for the loud finale. In “Head Down” I like the little background voices echoing effects throughout. These elements add another layer that makes The Slip not just a cacophony of noise but shades and depths of another extraordinary statement from the artist that is Trent Reznor.
My favorite song is the very understated and piano based beauty “Lights in the Sky.” Think the music of “Something I Can Never Have” with the lyrical intensity of “Hurt,” yet stripped down to the core or unplugged if you will. This is Trent at his most exposed and heartfelt. “Lights in the Sky” sounds like an ode to someone close to him that has passed away. I love the piano sound in this song. Maybe he borrowed one of Tori Amos’ grand pianos. As Trent sings “I am right here beside you.” You can hear him whisper this intimate vocal as if he’s the same room as you. This is the closest Trent has let us hear him. Usually the songs have these shields of industrial strength armor but “Lights in the Sky” is Reznor’s voice naked and free for all to discover.
Two instrumentals a-la Ghosts follow “Lights in the Sky.” This is where my favorite part of The Slip comes into effect. This says something about Ghosts, like I stated in my last review me not being a fan of instrumentals but “Corona Radiata” does echo the sound of Track 10 from that last, four part album of his. I feel “Corona” is the sound a soul makes after its final breath and before lifting off into the ether.
“The Four of Us Dying” sounds as if Trent’s knocking on the door to the afterworld. And The Slip ends with Trent’s ultimate track “Demon Seed” and I feel it’s his magnum opus. Think of it as Reznor’s personal version of Dante’s “Inferno,” his description of life into the great below and beyond. I love what Trent does with the vocals on “Demon Seed,” especially the part when he stutters the line “t..t..t..tolerate you.” At first it sounds whispered like from “Lights in the Sky.” But then when he gets to the second stage of his inferno his voice gets louder and there’s even a background harmony like in “All the Love in the World” from With Teeth. The guitar sounds very Bernard Sumner-esque. You can feel the decent into hell through all the stages of “Demon Seed.”
The Slip ends in a grand and epic manor. You need to give the album a few spins. It’s not perfect but that’s part of its allure. The Slip is a perfect addition to ever evolving canon of Nine Inch Nails. I was impressed with his intentions with Year Zero but I admit that I didn’t really connect with that album. It was missing the emotional intensity from The Fragile and With Teeth. Then came Ghosts and it was the mysterious splendor that restored my faith in Trent. He’s not a superhero. He, to borrow a line from Blade Runner, is more human than human. He’s imperfect, with revolutionary ideas of freedom that inspire us from afar.
Nine Inch Nails – Broken
Joy Division – Still
Ministry – The Last Sucker