Review Summary: The happy side of Trent Reznor.
It’s safe to say Trent Reznor has been a pretty busy man these past few years. From collaborating with Atticus Ross on the soundtracks to The Social Network
and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
in 2010 and ’11 respectively, to his side project How to Destroy Angels releasing their first LP Welcome Oblivion
earlier this year, it’s amazing that Trent found the time to squeeze out another treat for his devoted Nine Inch Nails fans. Sonically, Hesitation Marks
is the most logical step for NIN to take at this time. After the interesting ambient direction he took with Ghosts I-IV
, it was nice to hear Trent put out another solid slab of industrial rock with The Slip
. Hesitation Marks
, however, brings the classic NIN sound back in full force, with a number of tracks sounding like they could’ve been taken straight out of their glory days in the 90’s. Lead single ‘Came Back Haunted’ in particular wouldn’t sound out of place on The Downward Spiral
with some Pretty Hate Machine
dance elements added in for good measure, and ‘Satellite’ is like a dance-y take on the Year Zero
sound, with ominous background effects and beefy synths adding to the song’s dense atmosphere. Other tracks take NIN’s sound into places its never gone before, like album centerpiece ‘Everything’ delving into noisy pop territory, the eccentric saxophone jabs in ‘While I’m Still Here’, and the funky ‘All Time Low’ being an upbeat “clap-along” song featuring some of Trent’s well done falsettos.
Despite the versatility in Hesitation Marks
, it never manages to lose focus. Every song, no matter how far a stretch from Trent’s typical style, sounds unmistakably like NIN, albeit a happier, less angst-y side. It’s a very uplifting album, with many choruses being pleasant to the ears and a large emphasis on major chords this time around (‘Copy of A’, ‘Everything’, ‘I Would for You’). The heavy guitar riffs from The Fragile
have largely been replaced with smoother synth melodies, and oddly enough the most prominent use of guitars is found in the least dissonant, poppy cut, ‘Everything’. Even the lyrics are optimistic, something usually foreign to Trent. That’s not to say Hesitation Marks
is a soft album – ‘Came Back Haunted’ as previously mentioned is reminiscent of The Downward Spiral
with its ‘Closer’-esque synth riff and an infectious, anthemic chorus, and the driving beat in ‘In Two’ compliments the falsetto work nicely, making it one of the most interesting tracks on the album. These heavier cuts also provide a welcome contrast to the more subtle ones, like ‘Find My Way’ and ‘Various Methods of Escape’, giving the album a well-rounded feel and showing off the full scope of NIN’s new sound well - something The Slip
failed to do.
It’s hard to compare an album like Hesitation Marks
to previous masterpieces The Downward Spiral
and The Fragile
because Trent is a completely different person than he used to be. He’s no longer the cocaine snorting, self-loathing alcoholic who wrote the vile ‘Big Man with a Gun’ and the depressing ‘I’m Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally’ – he’s a family man now, with a beautiful wife and children, living off doing what he loves: making music, and really, who could fault him for that?