Last week, Trent Reznor shocked fans and industry types with the surprise on-line release of a new instrumental album, Ghosts I-IV. The official Nine Inch Nails Web site has been updated with information on ordering the album, plus the option to download the first nine tracks for free.
I downloaded the first bit, and I’d say it’s worthy of being free. Tracks ranged from decent — good filler tracks for a real album, maybe — to ignorable and to, in a few cases, pretty irritating. My brain’s reptilian areas kind of wished that the tracks had some lyrics to anchor them, but then I remembered what Nine Inch Nails lyrics are like. The dude writes such high-school bullshit that he can make 70-year-old Johnny Cash sound like a pasty adolescent goth, so let’s consider the absence of lyrics a bonus feature. It’s exactly how you’d expect an instrumental Nine Inch Nails album to sound: sort of like the instrumental bits from The Fragile, but without all the vocal tracks to keep it interesting. About as many surprises here as a typical sunrise. But, hey: free.
The most interesting thing about the record, and the part with the biggest implications for the music industry, is its broad gradient of purchase options. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can pick something up for free (a bit of the album), part with a few bucks for a download, or blow your whole paycheck on an opulent multi-disc deluxe issue. Here are the choices:
$0: Free Download
Freeloader types can help themselves to an MP3 download of the first nine tracks, complete with high-quality cover art and liner notes. The tracks are digital-rights-management-free — which means that the RIAA won’t blow up your computer if you try to burn them to a CD. (God knows it’ll want to, of course.)
Those willing to lay out a modest sum can download a digital version of the entire 36-track album. Essentially the same as the free thing, but four times as much of it — which, as far as I’m concerned, should make it four times freer. Includes high-quality MP3 files, plus higher-quality files in FLAC format, which retain all the quality of a CD but can be heard only by nerds. This version is also DRM-free — which means it’s easy to steal and you have to pay for it only if you really want to, or if you’re too stupid to track down a free download. (Probably a great deal of overlap between those two.)
$10: Two-CD Set
The “real” CD, to be released next month. Comes as a two-disc set featuring a good ol’ fashioned physical CD digipak, printed liner notes, and cover art. Perfect for hillbillies. And to ease the sting of living in the past: every CD pre-order comes with a download link to all the crap from the $5 version. This ensures that every computer owner who buys the disc (which is every buyer, since it’s an on-line offer) will have stopped giving a shit about the album by the time he receives the CDs.
$75: Deluxe Edition Package
Includes the two CDs and the digital downloads, plus a fancy 48-page book packed with gorgeous, washed-out photos of sand and water and bleak-looking stuff — “visual æsthetic accompaniments to the music” is how the site puts it. You’ll also get a Blu-Ray disc of ultra-high-quality audio, and a special DVD with the isolated instrument tracks for each song on the album. Pretty cool idea: you can separate the eerie piano from the eerie whooshing, or combine it with the ominous buzzing and haunting clicks to create your own Ghosts I-IV remix.
$300: Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition Package
For diehard Reznor superfans, this luxuriant set offers all the shit above plus some mind-blowing extras: an exclusive four-LP vinyl pressing and two exclusive, high-quality Giclée prints of artwork from the album. (“Giclée” is a French word meaning “inkjet.”) The set is limited to 2500 pieces, each signed by Trent Reznor. Any of you rich idiots who’re thinking of buying this thing are out of luck; all the pre-orders have been filled. Which means that Trent took in a good $750,000 in only a few days on sales of retarded deluxe packages alone. Admirable!
$5000: Mega-Deluxe Superlimited Package
All of the above, plus Trent Reznor will come to your home and give you all the master tapes and original recording media used in the process of creating Ghosts I-IV. He will comment favorably on your décor, kiss you on the mouth, and leave.
$25,000: Ultimate Final Deluxe Package
All the material in the Ultra-Deluxe package hand-delivered by Reznor, who will offer you comfort in his arms. After he leaves your house, a nationwide recall of all other copies of Ghosts I-IV will be instituted; owners of all forms of the album will have their copies revoked, unsold stock will be boxed and returned, and all downloaded copies will spontaneously delete themselves. All recalled copies of the album will be shipped to the Nevada desert and buried, along with Reznor himself.