Nine Inch Nails
Sep 16, 2013 Web Exclusive
In a recent interview, Trent Reznor alluded to feeling restricted creatively when recording under the Nine Inch Nails name. Throughout the 1990s, his band was the benchmark by which all other anxious, brooding electronic rock was measured; Reznor became a scowling poster boy for the alternative era's malcontent youth. It's a persona that almost destroyed—and clearly, still haunts—Reznor, and one it's unlikely he'll ever fully shake, despite cleaning up his life and expanding his musical style. Reznor's spent the previous four years—Nine Inch Nails was on indefinite hiatus—working free of the shackles the act's name imbued on him, scoring two films (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network, with Atticus Ross) and starting a new band, How to Destroy Angels, with his wife.
His return to Nine Inch Nails finds the artist at his least desolate-sounding; that's not to say he's all sunshine and smiles on Hesitation Marks—the self-mutilation referencing title probably gives that away—but the record does seem to have a noticeably brighter disposition. Hesitation Marks isn't nearly as claustrophobic as listeners have come to expect from the NIN branding; some tracks, such as "While I'm Still Here" and "Find My Way," are downright gentle, close in line with the ambient sounds of 2008's Ghosts I-IV. In the harder tracks—single "Came Back Haunted," "All Time Low"—the familiar, harsh tones are given moments of balancing spaciousness. Much of Hesitation Marks occupies a strange area in-between: "Everything" is swaths of raw aggression broken up by a poppy—almost cheerful—chorus; disaffected lyrics aside, "Copy of A" almost sounds like dancehall techno. The record's odd mixture of styles fails to solidify. There's enough dabbling here outside the band's long-established scope to put some extra distance between Reznor and the industrial sound he helped put on the map, but it hangs onto tradition just enough to not be considered a radical departure from what he was doing two decades ago. On Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails hints at new directions, but hesitates to take a leap. (www.nineinchnails.com)
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 7/10