Former Pitchfork reviewer Brent DiCrescenzo once called Trent Reznor “the worst, most predictable, most uninspired lyricist working today.” Yes, it was in the review where he gave The Fragile a 2.0 rating. A few years later, Mr. DiCrescenzo was found to be the Jayson Blair of Pitchfork after several accounts of falsified stories in his writing surfaced, including reviews of the Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs (7.9) and Radiohead’s Kid A (10.0). How does this affect the validity of that 1999 review? It simply takes away all legitimacy of his inept and scornful musing. Mr. DiCrescenzo, you are “the worst, most fictitious, most full-of -shit music reviewer not working today.” And it is with great relief that you do not have the opportunity to review Trent Reznor’s latest masterwork, The Slip.
Trent Reznor has cleaned up and gone drug-free. The result is a renewed work ethic (no more waiting five years between records). Some have even complained that he is making too much music in a short period of time (With Teeth, 2005; Year Zero, 2007; Ghosts I-IV, 2008; The Slip, 2008). The motivation is still there but the inspiration has changed. With Teeth was inspired by Reznor’s inner conflicts about being relevant today and having the ability to write songs while sober. The day after George W. won the 2004 election, Trent professed on his blog: One step closer to the end of the world. The one-two combo of corporate greed and organized religion apparently proved to be too much for reason, sanity and compassion. This statement seemingly ignited the inspiration to create the world of Year Zero, the first album that did not center on Reznor himself but instead a deteriorating political climate. Less than a year later, Reznor would challenge himself further by locking himself in the studio for several weeks with a set of ground rules that read: 10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as… something. The result was a double-album of 36 instrumental tracks. The album was released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license.
That brings us to the latest NIN release, The Slip, which is available as a free download on the NIN website. “Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years – this one’s on me,” announced Reznor on the day the album download went live. The site recently announced that a feature on Google Earth provides a view of how many people worldwide have downloaded the album so far (1.4 million unique downloads as of June 26, 2008). If Trent Reznor has any further questions about his relevance in music today, he can stop asking.
The record contains the heaviest tracks that the band has released (Letting You; 1,000,000), as well as the most ambient (Lights in the Sky; Corona Radiata). It’s an inspired, stylistic paradox that may explain Reznor’s current frame of mind. The album is a return to form established early in the NIN catalog by the Broken EP and the Downward Spiral. And Reznor hasn’t written harsher lyrics since that era. In the second track, numerically titled 1,000,000, Trent is asking to be put out of his misery: “Put the gun In my mouth | Close your eyes | Blow my fucking brains out | Pretty patterns on the floor | That’s enough for you | But i still need more.” Could he possibly be talking about his relationship with his record label? Although the themes in The Slip are not entirely clear, it has been suggested that some of it may represent Trent’s recent dealings with his label and the music industry in general.
This theme starts to make more sense when you listen further. In Letting You, Trent warns, “The cancer takes ahold | The wolf is in the fold | Our destiny’s been sold | We do just what we’re told,” followed by the intense chorus, “And we’re letting you get away with it.” And the title of the second-to-last track is called The Four of Us Are Dying. Yeah, there may be four members of the live band (actually five), but NIN has always been a one-man show. In the simplest way, the song may be a shot at the big four record labels (Universal, Sony BMG, Warner & EMI) and their hopeless outlook in a new financial climate in the music industry. Reznor is smurking throughout, as he has helped slay the record label beast (along with Radiohead and Saul Williams) and gets to watch its slow but sure demise: ” I will use my voice | And i will use my fist | To destroy | Everything i can.”
Brent DiCrescenzo also complained in his review of 1999′s The Fragile, “I pity the kids of the style-over- substance generation– and yes, it will only be kids– who enjoy this album. Kids, high school isn’t as bad as it seems. You’ll grow out of this phase.” I guess you could have still classified me as a college “kid” back in 1999. I just haven’t grown out of this phase of appreciating challenging and inspired music. – Mark
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Album: The Slip
Release Date: May 5, 2008 (online)
Record Label: None (The Null Corporation)