Reevaluating NINE INCH NAILS: Part 8 – The Slip


Nine Inch Nails’ seventh studio album, The Slip, was released for free under a Creative Commons license on July 22, 2008. The album peaked at number 13 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Having gotten some middling enjoyment out of the other 2000s-era Nine Inch Nails albums, what am I to make of the album that Trendy Ricepaper thought so little of that he gave it away for free?

I guess there’s only one way to find out.

The Slip opens up with 90 seconds or so of rhythmic whirring that can’t really be called a “song”. It could be called “reasonably interesting sounding”. This was so obviously designed to bleed into the next track, I’m not sure why it isn’t just properly a part of the next track. But whatever.

The drumbeat into crunchy bass riff thing is such an obvious NIN touchstone by this point, it would have actually been a pretty shocking departure for this record to have started off without a song that sounds like “1,000,000”. The Terry Razor take on industrial pop-rock is a boilerplate now, and this track doesn’t stray too far from its progenitors. Beyond perhaps being a track that sounds like it was written in order to get the central riff licensed by some tech firm to sell some really swell new graphics cards or something.

Near the end some background vocals come in where T-bird mumbles “a million miles away” into one of your ears and it sounds like he recorded it on his phone and pasted it on top of an otherwise complete mix of the song. It’s really weird.

Also, the drums sound kind of crappy in the way where I’m not sure if it’s crappy sounding artificial drums trying too hard to sound real or if it’s just real drums that have been produced terribly.

This song may not be one in a 1,000,000 but at least we only have to sit through one of it, am I right?

Letting You
See, these fake-sounding drums and this distorted bass sound is already much more interesting than the previous song. “Letting You” captures a glimmer of the speedy, amped-up glory of past NIN gems like “Gave Up”. The production on this record is squelchy and farty, which works pretty well with this chaotic track and its fitfully bananas chorus section.

Pretty good. Really good, actually.

This album is all buzzy bass grooves, huh? No complaints about that as far as “Discipline” is concerned, because this groove is catchy as fuck. This may be as close as Trunk Rumbzler gets to straight-up pop music, and it works very well. Even when things are brought down and some predictable NIN creepy whisper vocals come in, they’re delivered in a pretty hooky fashion.

Once he starts he cannot stop himself, guys.

I’ve come around on the drum sounds on this record. They’re kind of hilarious and great to me now. “Echoplex” is also pretty catchy, built around a great guitar figure that sounds like it is very fun to play. The song straddles its dance-y hook and spooky atmospherics in a very handy Nine-Inch-Nailsian fashion and concludes with a vintage T-Rez repetition jam-spiral. This is a great one.

Head Down
Hahaha. The vocals on the verses here fulfil the requirement of embarrassing almost-rap spoken word/bad idea from ol’ Trinty. I’m glad that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Luckily, the glitched-out track beneath it is just terrific. The chorus is also tightly melodic and filled with a great sense of tension. Overlooking the really silly vocal approach, “Head Down” is another winner. The sounds are really spectacular.

Lights in the Sky
After all of these fun bangers, it’s kind of a surprise to find a haunting and hushed piano ballad plopped in there. But “Lights in the Sky” is soft Terry Razor at his best. As soft as terrycloth! Terry Razor cloth! Which doesn’t actually sound soft at all. I’m getting off-track.

I’m not sure that there’s been a NIN ballad this good since “Hurt”. The chord progressions are terrific and the song is sad and unsettling in the way that all good mellow music ought to be. Uplift me later, pal. I gotta go get Reznor’d.

Corona Radiata
The final piano stroke of “Lights in the Sky” blends into this 7 minute-plus ambient drone track that is all kinds of terrific. Whatever occasional misgivings I have about T-roz as a songwriter, I cannot deny that he is a master of instrumentation, tone and texture. “Corona Radiata” is fascinating in a way that feels reminiscent of “A Warm Place” from The Downward Spiral, but without feeling derivative of that piece. This is great. I could listen to it all day.

The Four of Us are Dying
We’re brought into the home stretch by The Slip‘s penultimate track, “The Four of Us are Dying”. As this is another instrumental, I have no idea who the four of them are and even less of an idea of what’s killing them. Maybe they all slipped. Maybe this album is about four people who all slipped on the same patch of spooky ice and that’s why it’s called The Slip.

Anyway, we can come back to my very good and reasonable theories about the album’s thematic content later. I’ve gotta say that this instrumental track was very enjoyable. It simmers and burbles for several minutes before boiling over in a way that seems more restrained and composed than I feel a younger act would have gone for. Working together as pieces of a whole, the last three tracks have taken the very fun front half of this record and given depth and gravity to the album. This is a good one!

Demon Seed
It’s drum-time again! The album closes with “Demon Seed”, which sounds like a classic Nine Inch Nails outro repetition spiral for its entire duration. Plenty of great sounds on display and fun to listen to, but it feels rather minor compared to some of the other tracks on this album. I almost wonder if the album should have ended with the three songs that immediately precede “Demon Seed”.

This isn’t a deal breaker for me, though. This song is solid enough without sounding like the epic conclusion that I feel like it should have.

The Verdict

I’m pretty surprised right now, guys!

I thought that Year Zero and With Teeth were both okay and I was expecting The Slip to continue the trend(reznor) of NIN records that are just fine but mediocre when compared with the high water mark of The Downward Spiral. It seems impossible, but I found so much to enjoy on The Slip… is this the best Nine Inch Nails record since TDS? That feels ridiculous to say for some reason.

If The Fragile were cut down to one LP of just its best material, I don’t think that I would bother considering The Slip as its superior. I’m just struck by how consistent and enjoyable the album is. It rarely knocks any track completely out of the park, but I don’t think that I would skip any tracks either.

Prior to this, I would have considered With Teeth to be the “fun” Nine Inch Nails record. The Slip trumps WT in the fun department pretty handily, though, and features a great ballad and two great instrumentals to boot.

I’ll need to do some calculations at the end of this series to determine where all of the albums truly rank, but I expect that The Slip will rank far higher on my list than any latter-day Nine Inch Nails record has any right to.

This record bangs!


Author: markmeeks

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