Nine Inch Nails - The Slip
Nine Inch Nails are a band I could admire but never truly adore. 'Head Like A Hole' and 'Closer' sounded revolutionary at the local Headbangers Ball but for all their intensity and flash brilliance, as 'a band' they just lacked the heart to draw me in. They seemed soulless, but then that was probably the intention.
I loved the landmark 'Natural Born Killers' soundtrack and its inspired mix of Patsy 'n' Patti which proved, if nothing else, Trent Reznor has a record collection to die for. When I finally took the plunge it was with 1999's bloated 'The Fragile' and let's say I wasn't impressed. It contained none of the melodramatic beauty his contributions to the NBK soundtrack suggested. Piffle!
But then I heard they were 'giving away' their latest album. That's right kids, FREE! Fill your boots! Get a trolley! Could this be the one to break me? Who cares! It's free, let's go.
The past year has seen some bold moves from established artists in terms of feeding their pop to us tarts. From Radiohead's 'In Rainbows' honesty box (thankfully a spectacular return to form) to Bloc Party's questionable staggered release for 'Intimacy' (which I think will come back to haunt them). But a major act giving away an album? Shirley, it's gonna be crap?
Word has it Reznor is sober these days and it shows. He now resembles a WWF action man and he sounds confident and determined. It's tastefully 'proper album length' too - ten tracks! Keep the motor runnin' honey I'll be out in a minute.
Vaulting the two-minute test card of '999,999' we're straight onto the front line with '1,000,000'.With 'I Am The Resurrection' drums and chainsaw guitars it's relentless and kicks like a jailbreak 'Are You Gonna Go My Way', 'I jump from every roof top,I don't feel anything at all'. The rush continues with 'Letting You' (double-time beat, nose bleed vocals) and 'Discipline' (funky drummer avec disco hi-hat). It's a glorious racket and feels like being chased by a swarm of giant bees. Reznor really knows how to manipulate the ride too, dropping the pace suddenly and switching it back just when you least expect. Damn, it's fun.
Bypassing 'Head Down' (which is good-but-not-right) the middle triptych is the album's real peak. 'Echoplex' is easily the strongest of the upbeat tracks. New Order hip-hop and a memorable descending riff build some ominous tension and impending fury. Like Frank Booth in 'Blue Velvet' it paces the perimeter, waiting for the moment to strike, 'my voice just echoes off these walls'. The fact it ultimately keeps its power contained just makes it more effective. There's more to fear in a whisper than a scream. It ends curled up in a lost groove mumbling 'You will never get to me in here'.
The album's 'Hurt' moment of frozen beauty comes in the form of 'Lights In The Sky' / 'Corona Radiata' which work best as one twinned 10-minute wonder.'Lights' is all hushed vocal and graveyard keys. A cinematic slice of maudlin menace, 'Watching you drown I'll follow you down', it reminded me of '80's horror classic 'The Fog'. A real sense of creeping, inevitable doom. Its breathtaking value is only enhanced by being at the eye of the hurricane. 'The lights in the sky are waving goodbye', stunning.
'Corona' seamlessly follows as an extended instrumental coda. Atmosphere is paramount by this point. We're lost in the darkness on the edge of town. Sounds are distorted in the mist, is that a distant church organ or E.T. in the clouds? I listened to this in a thunderstorm and it was a seriously Eerie Indiana moment. Eventually an unholy march of Omen Monks appear to lead the listener out of the dark, which is a damn shame as from here the album begins to unravel.
'The Four Of Us Are Dying' is another instrumental and the return of the living dread, but at this point the audience really needed another vocal track. It's like Trent has left the stage for a slash and missed his cue to return. Closer 'Demon Seed' then feels disembodied, like an encore, rather than part of the main set. It revises the riff from 'Echoplex' (which by now resembles the 'Starsky & Hutch' theme) but despite its best intentions the spell is broken. The lights are on and 3-2-1 you're back in the room.
'The Slip' feels like a moment of clarity for its creator, 'This is not my face, this is not my life'. Despite faltering at the finish it's still the most stylish and accessible NIN record I've heard and made by someone who knows what they're doing. It's wild at heart and weird on top, Jimi Hendrix would've liked it.
Blessed by the ghost of Johnny Cash, it seems Reznor is now repossessed by the original Man In Black's sense of drama and passion. Twenty years in and for me, this is just getting interesting. It's OK kids, it's safe to come out - the bogeyman is dead, long live the boogie man.