I found out early this morning that Trent Reznor & co. released another brand-new studio album, this one with vocals and everything, at midnight last night, absolutely free as long as you provide a valid email address. (You can send copies to three of your friends, too.)
I got Ghosts and, while some of it was kind of enjoyable, ultimately it felt half-assed and tossed-off. The worst of the instrumental sketches sounded like they'd taken as long to write and record as they did to listen to. This new record, though, is a full-on NIN album, and while Reznor's basic sound hasn't changed appreciably since The Downward Spiral (and he's been working in a really narrow sonic range since With Teeth), it's pretty solid. I would say the student has surpassed the teacher, in that Reznor's latter-day work is much, much stronger than Al Jourgensen's. Big Al is a guaranteed source of great interview quotes (I talked to him a few weeks ago and laughed my ass off through half of our conversation), but the last three real Ministry albums - never mind that covers thing - are one-riff slash-and-burn stuff, nowhere near the heights he scaled in the glory years of 1989-92.
The Slip (that's the name of the new NIN album) is pretty damn good, though, and when it comes out as a physical CD in July I might even buy a copy just to keep the collection together.
Which is the weird thing. I was not a big NIN fan during their heyday. I thought some of their songs were okay, but I didn't get the whole "TR = genius" thing. To me, his greatest achievement in the early '90s was curating the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. More or less since The Fragile, though, I've enjoyed his albums quite a bit. I saw him on the Fragile 2.0 tour, at the NYC show when Marilyn Manson came out to sing "Starfuckers Inc." with him, and it was a great show. And the last couple of records - With Teeth, Year Zero, and this one - have been his strongest, from a lyrical standpoint. The ratio of acceptable lines to head-in-hands cringers is better than it's ever been. (He's never come up with a great line - I don't care how much you like "Closer," it's not a brilliant piece of songwriting - only lyrics you can ignore, or ones that totally ruin the song for you because you can see the rhyme speeding at you like a truck.) But somehow I have wound up with copies of all his major releases - that is, all the albums, the 2CD slipcase version of the live set, and the Broken EP: no remix collections and no CD singles - in my house. So somehow, I am more of a NIN fan at 36 than I was at 18. I did not anticipate this development. But hey, whatever. The Slip is good. Go get yourself one.