No. 77: Nine Inch Nails’ Flood of Digitally Distributed New Music

In the decade after 1994’s The Downward Spiral made Nine Inch Nails a household name, Trent Reznor cultivated a reputation as a reclusive perfectionist of nearly Chinese Democracy-level procrastination, releasing just one bloated double album, 1999’s The Fragile. And though 2005’s With Teeth hinted at a leaner and more workmanlike model of NIN, nobody could’ve predicted the accelerated pace at which Reznor would begin releasing music after completing his Interscope contract.

In March, the instrumental double album Ghosts I-IV was dropped into the digital ether with no prior announcement, and before that feast could even be digested, a more traditonal NIN album, The Slip, debuted in May. If Ghosts was the for-fans-only indulgence a major label never would have approved, then The Slip is the humble, concise 40-minute album Reznor never would have let himself make while he was Interscope’s cash cow. And both albums benefit from a wider variety of instrumental textures and clearer production aesthetic than 2007’s sonically muddy and conceptually overloaded Year Zero.

Much hand-wringing can be done about whether Rezor followed “the Radiohead model” or if he improved upon it. But it remains remarkable that an artist long thought past his prime was able to make his music better, cheaper, more plentiful and more profitable in one fell swoop.

80 ’08 (And Heartbreak)