Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Nine Inch Nails

Ghosts I-IV (2008)


Two hundred and ten songs in eight years. That's how many tunes Prince independently released on full-lengths and EPs after his mid-`90s split with Warner Bros. Records, not counting the 18 that comprised the Arista-distributed Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. Now, I love Prince a lot. Purple Rain is one of the best records of all time. Sign o' The Times, 1999 and 3121 are all up there too. But I can't name a single Prince song off of any of his indie releases (not counting the seven "1999" remixes he put out for no particular reason). That's because a huge heaping of those 210 songs suck. The guy's a virtuoso for sure, but he also needs someone to smack him around and say no every once in a while.

It is to this extent that some sort of editor, like a record label -- major or minor -- is useful in the creation of art, and not just the distribution of it. "Hey, Prince," the label could say, "Maybe releasing a record of prog-jazz songs that all start with the letter ‘X' is a bad idea." And the label would be right, and Prince never would have put out Xpectation.

The reason why I bring up Prince in this, a Nine Inch Nails review, is because I fear NIN mastermind Trent Reznor may be on the same path. Fresh off of his split with Interscope, and less than a year after the superb dancepocalypse Year Zero, Reznor has rushed out Ghosts I-IV, a 36-track collection of tepid instrumental audio experiments.

Previous NIN releases like The Fragile and Year Zero had brilliant instrumental industrial tracks -- tunes so perfect in their aggression/depression that they didn't need lyrical or vocal input. Listeners still get that here to some extent, like on the My Bloody Valentine-soaked shoegaze haze of "4 Ghosts I" or the weirdly bluegrassy grind of "14 Ghosts II." Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione lends percussion on bottles and scrap metal to "19 Ghosts III," and the resulting sonic experiment is actually interesting, calling to mind the urban bustle of, say Geino Yamashirogumi.

Most of the tracks on Ghosts I-IV are pretty brief, though -- 24 of the 36 songs are under three minutes long. This brevity often keeps ideas from fleshing out more. Besides, most of these cuts are homogenous blobs, indistinct background music that doesn't do a whole lot. That Reznor wouldn't bother giving these songs proper titles just adds to the half-baked nature of the collection. Right now, they feel more like demos of rhythms for a "real" NIN album.

As an opening statement of independence, Ghosts I-IV is a disheartening work. Bloated and directionless, it wastes listeners' time and money (a lot of money, in fact. Ghosts I-IV has already netted Reznor more than $1.5 million). Like Radiohead's In Rainbows, buyers can purchase a variety of editions of the record. Ghosts I is available for free download, whereas a deluxe package including Ghosts I-IV in MP3, CD and vinyl formats was $300 before it sold out. More modest fans can pick up the CD/MP3 combo for $10, but be prepared to weep, and not because it's the second coming of "Hurt."