Trent Reznor is stickin' it to the man. Now that he's a label-free artist, he's been giving stuff away (or selling it very cheap if you don't make it to his site during the free period). His new album, The Slip, is currently available as a free download.
The question is: Do you get what you pay for?
Thankfully, no. In fact, I prefer The Slip to its predecessor (2007's Year Zero) by a fairly wide margin. That may not be saying much, considering my rather "meh" response to Year Zero, but I paid for that album.
That's not to say that The Slip is a great album throughout. It isn't. Like every Nine Inch Nails album except Broken, it's very hit-or-miss, and filled with several tracks that sound suspiciously like Reznor was just messing around with a drum machine and a mixer. This kind of noodling may have fans somewhere, but it bugs the crap out of me.
The first single from the album, "Discipline," which Reznor released for free a short time before the whole album, is also the best track. I'd compare it favorably to "Only" and "The Hand That Feeds" -- the two best tracks from 2006's With Teeth.
"Echoplex" doesn't have the same kind of drive that powers "Discipline." Rather, it's a moodier song in the mode of The Downward Spiral. It still has a good beat and is pretty decent in its own right, however.
"Head Down" and "Demon Seed" are noisy tracks with weird time signatures (to my uneducated ear). They're more industrial-sounding than the stronger tracks on the album, and probably won't make single, but "Head Down" has a good chorus. The tweaky noise overlaying a lot of the track will likely turn non-fans of the genre off pretty quickly, though. "Demon Seed" keeps promising to break out into a bigger sound, but fails to deliver.
"Lights in the Sky" is a breathy piano-noodling song reminiscent of the classic, "Hurt." It doesn't soar nearly as high as that song, however, and is rather short for this kind of track.
The rest is mostly noise.
It's interesting (and maybe a little disappointing -- I'm not sure) that the newly-awakened political voice Reznor surprised everyone with on Year Zero has virtually disappeared. It seems strange to me that he could be so strident on an album last year and then drop it so completely, and I wonder if there wasn't a fan backlash of some sort that Reznor's responding to.