Nine Inch Nails mainman Trent Reznor makes the most of his recent hard-won freedom on the two-disc, all-instrumental Ghosts I-IV. It's the kind of record Interscope probably wouldn't have allowed Reznor to release when he was under contract — not only because it lacks vocals, but also because it sounds a little like The Fragile, NIN's unjustly slagged masterwork from 1999. In fact, most major labels would balk at Ghosts' content. They would also positively spaz over Reznor's Radiohead-like decision to release the album as a $5 download. (A CD version came out this weeek.)
Ghosts' 36 untitled cuts cover most of Reznor's rarely matched areas of proficiency. Even if nothing here tops The Fragile's most elegant zeniths, "La Mer" and "Just Like You Imagined," the songs scrape and lull — spanning toothy pop (track 16), droning interludes (2), '80s homages (24), the wankerish, disposable digital noise from the remix albums (7), and mostly, cinematic scenes that turn your earbuds into a personal transport system to charred landscapes beneath a gray sky.
As with most double albums, some of Ghosts' songs are forgettable, but there are many great ones here as well. Fans of Reznor's underheralded, minimalist piano prowess will be delighted from the start. They'll also likely wear out the tuneful suite that includes tracks 12 and 13 by the end of the next overcast day.