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Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
ImageI’m all for new any new distribution model in music. Whether it’s DIY or MySpace or whatever I’m happy to support artists who are creating music they believe in and trying to get it out into the public to be heard. I also believe the massive shift that’s necessary in the music biz is very late coming into the station. It may be getting close, but people still don’t know which platform or where it’s headed. 

The different aspects of the music business are now fully interconnected and it’s much easier for an artist to be totally self-contained. Although it still isn’t easy for a kid with a batch of cool songs to pay for a colorful billboard on Sunset Blvd, her music can actually reach many more people. And, unlike a billboard crying out to thousands of motorists who could care less, these people she’s reaching are revealed to be interested in the music just by their arriving at the distribution location. By using a little imagination, generating a little buzz, and delivering the musical goods our kid can achieve whatever it is she wishes. What does this mean to the people who would purchase the colorful billboards on Sunset or spend untold thousands on promo parties just to charge it back to the artist later? Well, to paraphrase Frank Zappa, “The major labels aren’t dead, they just smell funny.” I mention all this in an effort to give some context to the new Nine Inch Nails release Ghosts I-IV. Sure, Trent Reznor has a foot up because of the NIN recognition factor, basically a built-in audience, but make no mistake, he’s being both brave and forward thinking by taking this release outside the old world distribution methodology and charging five dollars to download it from the NIN website. Even though he was born of that old world, the strange rock and roll planet where big label A&R people made as much money and enjoyed as many of the excesses as their artists, he’s looking towards the new world, where the measures of success are still being debated and ideas, once created, become ghosts that travel though the ether looking for people to touch them. Which leads to another question, “How can a new artist survive using this model if it’s thought to be a risky proposition for a new NIN release?” I’m not sure I can accurately answer that because I’ve still got a lot of old world thinking running around in my head. And my vantage point may be too far away. Hell, I might even be looking in the wrong direction. But like a lot of people I am trying to figure it out and I respect him for doing the same.

Reznor is brave in releasing Ghosts I-IV as his first DIY because it consists of an hour and 50 minutes of moody, atmospheric instrumentals that are like Erik Satie meets Peter Gabriel’s Passion (the soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ). It’s a wonderful mixture of production, modern technology and creativity and I’d guess that many of its 36 cuts will end up being licensed for films, or dance troupes, or Volkswagen commercials, in the oh-so-near future. Ghosts’ mélange of sound conjures dreams, stirs your thoughts and opens up a wormhole that allows you to see what’s in store for our musical future.

Among the many outstanding soundscapes are: the propulsive and middle eastern-sounding “3 Ghosts I,” “14 Ghosts II” with its staccato envelope filter rhythm and big bass drum boom, “20 Ghosts III” which is like the noise of a Tesla coil being reined in to create music, and “28 Ghosts IV,” which could be the soundtrack for a 22nd Century James Bond flick. At first I had some difficulty keeping all this music, with these similar names, lined up in my head, but after a couple of listens I gave up on my note taking, lay back with my headphones and just let the music wash over me. The result was that the pieces which connected with me emotionally really stood out and I began to enjoy the entire collection at a higher level.

You’d imagine a collection such as this, which marries instruments, noise and production, would come across as overly mechanical, but that isn’t the case. Reznor’s real genius lies in his ability to take wildly divergent things and mold them into something musical. And where on Broken, or The Downward Spiral, each ingredient of every song tended to slap you in the face with a wet fish, Ghosts takes these same ingredients and gives the music a real classicality. This inherent musicality is by far its most winning feature and shows how an artist who has always been identified with “the cutting edge” can continue to grow, and engage his talents, even if what was once edgy has found its way into the mainstream and dulled a bit.   
But, by jumping the new distribution train, Reznor has placed himself in a precarious position. Because if, after releasing this stirring instrumental collection, he returns to a major label for future distribution and makes the foolish mistake of dismissing Ghosts as an experiment filled with music he was “making for himself” (like Paul did with McCartney II), all the talk of bravery and forward thinking will dissipate like smoke blown out of the window of that train. And he’d be revealed to be stuck with a ticket that’s already been punched and standing on a platform that’s long been passed by.                  
I downloaded Ghosts I-IV through the NIN site. I chose the mp3 [email protected] 320kbps, 44.100 kHz even though there was another version available at above 700kbps. The 320 version took about 25 minutes to download and strangled my internet connection. The larger version would have been nice but I figure I wouldn’t be able to listen to it until next Christmas. Ghosts I-IV sounds pretty damn marvelous and the production, as mentioned before, is incredible. On “23 Ghosts III” there’s a moment that startles me each time it occurs because it sounds like someone’s playing a feedback guitar just outside my office window. That should tell you how well this recording is engineered. My home theater system shuddered in ecstasy when I played it loud for my neighbors and the bass in my car stereo wondered what the hell was going on. It’s easy to tell that Trent Reznor has some really good equipment in his studio and knows how to use it. 

Extra Features
I purchased the download-plus-two-CD version of Ghosts I-IV but the CDs aren’t being shipped until April so I can’t comment on them. The download came with a pdf booklet and wallpapers (in standard and widescreen) of each piece of art contained in the pdf. It also came with a folder filled with web graphics including cool NIN logos. As previously mentioned, the download version is five dollars and the version with CD is 10 dollars plus 6.99 shipping.  This entire digital release, download platform, music and extra features, is first rate and should be considered the standard for what is, inevitably, to come.

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