The first Nine Inch Nails release in five years finds Trent Reznor reunited with friends both old and new.
Nine Inch Nails hang tough in Hesitation Marks
Nine Inch Nails
Life has become quite mellow for Trent Reznor in recent years. No longer the Angry Young Man who brought electro-industrial noise rock to the pop mainstream two decades ago, the 48-year-old singer put Nine Inch Nails (NIN) on hold in 2009 while he occupied himself with other projects – marrying his girlfriend Mariqueen Maandig, having two children together and launching their musical project How to Destroy Angels. He also composed scores to two David Fincher movies, winning an Oscar for 2010’s The Social Network.
For a while, it seemed as if Reznor was putting away childish things forever. So this comeback album comes as something of a surprise.
Growing out of a commission for a computer game soundtrack, the first NIN release in five years finds Reznor reunited with friends both old and new, including the former David Bowie/King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew and the visual artist Russell Mills, who previously designed the striking sleeve for NIN’s 1994 album The Downward Spiral.
The sonic palette on Hesitation Marks is as eclectic as ever, though Reznor’s polished electro-noir side takes precedence over his scouring industrial side. The fine singles Came Back Haunted and Copy of A combine Depeche Mode-style synth-rock gloom with propulsive bursts of dance-floor techno. Another highlight is Find My Way, an amniotic trip-hop ballad with hints of vintage Massive Attack in its ghostly, luminous glide. Reznor’s excursion into falsetto-voiced funk-rap on All Time Low is also interesting, if not wholly successful, incorporating a vaguely Middle Eastern guitar melody and a typically desolate lyric: “Everything is not OK / we lost too much along the way.”
The album is peppered with familiar NIN trademarks, the most immediately apparent being vocals that swing between hushed whisper and deafening howl in a heartbeat.
After more than 20 years, the singer’s chief lyrical concerns remain as narrow and narcissistic as ever, stranded in a never-ending teenage tantrum of sulky self-pity and designer despair. These shortcomings become especially obvious on lesser, more generic tracks such as Various Methods of Escape and In Two.
That said, there is enough strong material on Hesitation Marks to please diehard NIN fans. The muscular guitar convulsions of Everything, the prowling menace of Satellite and the shuddering monumentalism of I Would for You prove that Reznor still has a flair for surprisingly melodic, big-chorus anthems. He may have mellowed, but rock’s brooding prince of darkness has not surrendered to midlife contentment, yet.
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