“Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years—this one’s on me,” Trent Reznor wrote on Nine Inch Nails’ Web site on Monday when he offered the band’s new album as a free download. In doing so, he not only took over the role that fellow alternative-era art-rockers Radiohead had claimed in leading the charge toward free Internet distribution, but he marked the release of his fifth disc of new material so far this year, following the instrumental “Ghosts I–IV” issued in mid-February, and matching the previously none-too-prolific output of his major-label career from 1989 through 2006.
Of course, one of the strengths of Reznor’s discography had been the painstaking effort he made to create utterly distinctive worlds on each new album, whether it was the tortured angst-ridden trip of “The Downward Spiral” (1994), the more sprawling soul-searching of “The Fragile” (1999) or the dense, playfully paranoid conceptualizing of “Year Zero” (2007). In comparison, “Ghosts I-IV” was merely an overflowing notebook of half-finished sketches, while “The Slip” is a quick ’n’ dirty garage-rock basement recording, industrial-thrash style, divided between atmospheric mechanical mood pieces such as “999,999” and “Corona Radiata” and much more aggressive, urgent and rewarding tunes such as “1,000,000,” “Letting You” and “Head Down.”
As such, “The Slip” doesn’t come close to matching the musical and lyrical intensity of Reznor at his very best. But it’s a testament to how vital his creative vision remains that it’s at least as good as lesser efforts such as “With Teeth” (2005) or “Broken” (1992). And who knows what else he has in store for the remaining seven months of 2008.