"Remember how frustrating it was when Nine Inch Nails would make us wait four to six years between albums? That trend, it appears, has entered the rearview mirror stage, along with the label messes and rehab stints that helped cause those interminable gaps. Consider the new math after The Slip hit hard drives as a free download last Monday: over the last three years, Trent Reznor's released as many full-length records of new material (four) as he did during the first decade of his recorded existence. Since Pretty Hate Machine, the concept behind Reznor's work with Nine Inch Nails has been blunt and straightforward: dystopian techno-metal forged from the fusion of man and machine. But since last year's Year Zero, which came bundled with an alternate-reality video game and high-concept pre-release marketing schedule, and including Ghosts I-IV, which mimicked Radiohead's lossy-leader gimmick, Reznor has slowly emerged as a new sort of cyborg: an artist wholly immersed in the newest digital trends for the distribution and promotion of his music. Like a more magnanimous Radiohead, Reznor's called into question the major-label reserve clause for established, profitable musicians by not just coming up with a new way to monetize music, but just giving it away for free, no strings attached. Instead of "tip-jar," it's "this one's on me."
Unlike its most immediate predecessors, The Slip comes packaged with a crucial difference: the music itself is more satisfying than the sui generis marketing scheme. Reznor's unique capacity to commingle raging industrial bangers with ballads and ambient instrumental passages appears in its best form since The Downward Spiral, and here gains much of the focus and restraint that many remember used to be his calling card. At just under 44 minutes, The Slip is Reznor's shortest full-length since Machine, and it indexes many of his most appealing qualities as a songwriter and album sequencer. His former label Interscope still retains the rights to issue a Nine Inch Nails greatest-hits set, but The Slip plays like Reznor's own minor retrospective, fleshed out with plenty of present-day ruminations."