Monday, March 3, 2008

Nine Inch Nails Drops a Stealth New Album

By Evan Rytlewski
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Nine Inch Nails unveiled yesterday a new, 36-song instrumental album with a distinctly Radiohead-ish marketing scheme. Like In Rainbows, Ghosts I – IV was recorded relatively quickly and released without advanced notice. Part of the album is available for as a free download, but for fans that like to buy up, they can drop as much as $75 on a deluxe hard copy.

Before I continue, an important disclaimer: One of my few qualms with the modern music blogosphere is snap judgments. After any major album leak, bloggers rush to be the first to post their reviews, basing them on only cursory listens. It’s nearly impossible to judge an album on just a listen or two; and it can take weeks of repeated spins to do a record justice. That being said, bands are now forcing reviewers’ hands. By the time major music publications, like Rolling Stone, print an educated review of a surprise album like In Rainbows or Ghosts I – IV, it’s already out of date, since bloggers will have already reached a loud consensus. Timeliness trumps thoughtfulness these days—it’s enough to make you understand why Maxim felt the need to stay competitive by reviewing albums it hadn’t yet received.

Anyway, instead of taking the high road this time, I’ll play by the changing rules of the game and add my own rushed two cents: Based on the free songs streaming on the site and available for download, I’m struck by how slight Ghosts is, especially compared to its closest analogue,  In Rainbows. Radiohead’s online surprise was a masterpiece; the gorgeous new album everyone had been waiting for, only served hot off the stove and at an indisputably fair price. Ghosts I – IV, on the other hand, merely plays like a collection of demos—the kind of Trent Reznor instrumentals used to reserve for stopgap, between-album releases (and, frankly, the kind of leftovers that many artists give away for free online anyway). It has its moments, of course. There’s plenty of harsh industrial jolts, a fair amount of Squarepusher-esque experiments, and a few genuinely lovely compositions, like the stark standouts “1 Ghosts I” and “34 Ghosts IV,” which make the case that Reznor should spend more time behind a piano and less behind a laptop. And the low-key vibe is certainly a welcome break from the aggressive posturing of Nine Inch Nails’ last two commercial rock albums, especially for fans looking for another Fragile. But listeners who gave up on the group after The Downward Spiral won’t find much reason to return here.
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