Allow me one trite cliché: the best things in life are free. That's how the saying goes, but often enough we can blow that logic to pieces with the knowledge that cash is not the only thing we expend to get what we want. In the case of Nine Inch Nails (hereafter referred to as NiN in this article for the sake of space), if you want to give their 8th studio album a listen you'll need to visit their website (http://theslip.nin.com), sign up your e-mail address and then download the sucker in the format of your choice, ranging from ultra-high quality to standard iPod-ready mp3's playable on your computer. I fell for the offer about a week ago and still haven't received any junk mail, so I feel confident spreading the word.

What about the album, though? Does it live up to expectations or merely prove why Trent Reznor, the dark audile genius (and sole ruler) of NiN, chose to give the album away free? We'll get to that, but let's take a tour first, shall we? Our journey through the blackened apocalyptic wasteland of Reznor's artistic reality begins with a 6 digit number.

999,999 begins The Slip instrumentally. That's six 9's - get it? We're slide through that track into a number one digit higher: 1,000,000. Now we're in familiar territory: Reznor's bottomless pit of angst! In case you were wondering if he could still pull it off - he does so with finesse. While it's not the strongest track on the album, with lyrics such as, "put the gun in my mouth. Close your eyes, blow my (explicit) brains out. Pretty patterns on the floor, that’s enough for you but I still need more," we're getting not only what we've come to expect from NiN, but actual perspective on the longevity of NiN and and their genre's relevancy today, exactly 20 years after the group emerged.

With that introduction, Reznor floors it and we race through Letting You. I find it almost subliminal that the chorus goes "we are letting you get away (get away with it!)" That strikes me as a comment on the fact that they're allowing us to download this album for free, leveraging our collective embrace of their music into a powerful slap to the face of the music industry. As if that weren't enough, Discipline comes next and you'll immediately understand why this track served as the only single the radio stations have been offered from this album. We've got Reznor either crying out for help or merely admiring a hero - it's difficult to say for sure. One thing I'm positive about: he's asking himself if NiN remains relevant. Are they still tough enough? Cool enough? I dare say indeed they deliver on that fierce, emotionally charged image.

Then we drift down into Echoplex, a song that shifts into a more introspective mode where the vocals rise over the softer background music to provide a sharp contrast that paints a bleak, if familiar, portrait of individual despair. Next, it's Head Down, a catchy beat featuring more in-your-face lyrical style before Lights in the Sky takes us down, down, down into a haunting atmosphere. Reznor makes use of the piano here as he's proven himself prone to and again, it works to create that desolate feel he frequently seasons his songs with. Corona Radiata lets go of the rope and we drop into a deeper trance, an almost 'inner hum', that evokes the sensation of ritualistic Zen chant - it's seven and a half minutes of instrumentals that seem to attempt hypnotizing the listener.

The cryptically titled The Four of Us Are Dying conjures up strange images for me. It's another instrumental that's well, jazzy. It sounds like what you might imagine an alien could produce in some far-flung galactic club, swaying to the music with a strange version of a saxophone and dark sunglasses. Yes, I was sober, folks - it's simply that bizarre and cinematic of a song!

Finally, we're dragged into Demon Seed, the final track of this album, where Reznor confesses that he's merely an avatar for an infernal supernatural entity. Okay, maybe not but it's great music that presents him promising to "destroy everything" with his voice as well as his fists. What more could we ask for from one of the planet's more famous industrial death machines?

That's a wrap on the tracks for The Slip, but it's not all I have to tell you. Each track comes embedded with the album art specific to that track and the lyrics, too. Not only are you encouraged to download the album for yourself, NiN also invites you to remix it yourself for free on their site (http://remix.nin.com) and then share it with friends, post it on your blog or do whatever the hell you'd like to with the music you "create". Pretty sweet deal, right?

By this point, I might as well say it: I've always found Trent Reznor to be a bit of fascist dictator and whiney sap. I still think that, but at the same time with this album he's proven that he not only knows what he's doing - he's capable of producing even better stuff than the initial albums (Pretty Hate Machine, Broken, The Downward Spiral) which hooked my interest in the first place. If you give this music a chance, I'm betting it'll make a fan out of you, too!


Lyrics submitted by mike

Nine Inch Nails - The Slip song meanings
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