Nine Inch Nails, The Slip
Slip…not! Nine Inch Nails unveil another dark classic
That Trent Reznor is still making records — and good ones, at that — is a kind of miracle. Fifteen years ago, the odds were handily stacked against him. If he didn't off himself — which, in 1994, seemed like a terrifyingly real possibility — changing times would handle that task for him. Reznor had the good fortune to be dubbed dark prince of industrial, a movement that was bound to lose mass attention once people noticed the sartorial requirements. Don't believe me? Can you tell me what Nitzer Ebb or KMFDM have been up to lately?
Trent, though, is a whole other story. Rather than disappearing darkly into that dark dark (dark) night, he instead transcended silly genre clichés and made records that were complex and intricate and nuanced — even if all those nuances were just varying shades of black. The Slip is his sixth full-length (not counting the instrumental collection Ghosts I-IV), and it continues his fierce and determined plunge into the void. Reznor long ago abandoned the sculpted beauty of The Downward Spiral, preferring instead to make records that sound like shaking fists. The songs on The Slip have the same fierce rattle as Reznor's last few outings, but are more percussive and harrowing. "1,000,000" is all angry forward motion, one mutilated chord progression walloped repeatedly by furious percussion. "Discipline" is a throbbing danse macabre, Reznor false-starting verses over an undulating bass groove. "Echoplex" is sparer but just as grim, tiny icy pianos dripping down on barren rhythm track, chugging guitars stopping and starting like a stalling car. Even the slow songs beat black blood: "Lights in the Sky" is death-pale and funereal, just a loping piano progression over and over and over, Reznor's parched voice silenced to a hush.
That his music is so reliant on technology works as an incredible plus. Rather than avoiding that quality, he embraces it, writing songs about ice-cold dystopias where machines have trampled men and where the soul is swallowed by The System. Reznor's pain, once personal, is now universal: "On your hands and your knees with your face in the trough," Reznor seethes, "Wait your turn while they finish you off." It plays like a bleak revision of Reznor's breakthrough mantra: we're not any closer to God, we're simply just fucked.