Love or hate the music, I'll argue with you for hours (if we've got beer), that the physical album cover of Radiohead's In Rainbows sucks.
And love or hate the music on Nine Inch Nails' four-part Ghosts project, I'll similarly argue (again, if we've got beer), that the artwork on that album is quite excellent. Even as a five dollar download, you got 36 individual photos that show up connected to the 36 instrumental tracks. As far as digital packaging goes, the design work on Ghosts is finally mounts an argument against those of us that remember slipping the plastic off of gatefold-vinyl and curling up with it to examine every inch while the turntable turned.
So it was with a slightly jealous heart that I looked at the box that LA Weekly's Todd Sternisha brought into the office Monday containing the limited edition $300 deluxe hard copy of Ghosts. Just a few hours after it landed though, Reznor went a step further by announcing a free download of another new album called The Slip, this one a full out 10 song LP with vocals, full production, brand new songs: the works. But let's take a look at this insane Ghosts thing first:
Two black, cloth-covered slipcases to start off with, with a big chunk of NIN-logoed metal stuck on each box.
2500 and that's all. A fair number of these got immediately turned around and offered on ebay. Ahh, capitalism!
Inside the narrow slipcase are three cloth covered booklets.
Trent signed the photo book.
The book has reproductions of all of the photos, there's a portfolio of two prints, then four discs in the third folder: 2 audio CDs, and…
…a Blu-Ray DVD (again with all of the art accompanying each track) and a multi-track DVD so that you can be your own Adrian Sherwood (or pick your favorite NIN remixer here) and make your own versions.
Then there's the big vinyl sleeve. Four LPs inside:
Nice heavy vinyl, and great packaging of course. Ghosts contains some really good music, but I don't think it's at its best when the whole thing (36 songs) is just set to run. It's more digestible broken down into four parts, and since the LPs further divide them into 8ths, that's probably better still.
Then on the other hand, we've got the new NIN studio album The Slip, which was announced and then offered as a free download on May 5.
Get it here: theslip.nin.com
Cryptic websites, Orwellian concepts and bloated running times have given way to a slim ten tracks in 43 minutes. (Though you can download a 1.2 GB version of the record in higher-than-CD quality 24/96 WAVE which is by no means slim.)
As for the music itself, well: Reznor's bypassed much of the industry he's fought with for nearly two decades now. Labels, radio, distributors, stores… He still needs to tour (which he's doing this summer thank you very much), but by giving the music away for free, he's also done away with the need for a critic.
I don't know how much a rave review ever played into people's decisions to drop $15 on an album – especially one by Nine Inch Nails, whose fanbase is particularly dedicated – but really, what does it matter what we say about the record?
Download it and listen to it. You've got nothing to lose. It costs you nothing but a little time. You tell me if you think it's any good.