Nine Inch Nails Hesitation Marks

Columbia 2013

Looking downward.

Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks


Depending on how you approach it, self-reflection can either be liberating or debilitating. Throughout the course of “Hesitation Marks” there are subtle clues that Trent Reznor is constantly reminded by just how far his life’s journey has taken him. Once the disaffected poster boy of drug-addled excess and industrial angst; he now sits a healthy, married father of two with even more industry awards on his shelf and a number of bold technological ventures to his credit.

And yet with successful side projects, film scoring opportunities and parenthood piled high atop his plate; he was still drawn to return to Nine Inch Nails in secret. Perhaps the opportunity for him and his cohorts to operate without the external pressure of the public at large was just too tantalizing. It could also be posited that not being placed under the microscope is what allowed him to drop his guard so much on this record.

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It purposely sounds experimental and to an extent stripped down. A dynamic collection of elaborate song skeletons that indulge heavily on the modernized electronic aspects which Nine Inch Nails has immersed itself in throughout their last three records. In being allowed to breathe the material remains fluid and lively, despite the rigidity created by an inherent lack of organic vs. electronic friction. That Reznor manages to also stoke a bit of the fire of his youth while tempering it with the control and restraint of his present stability is just an added benefit.

Copy Of A” with its throbbing electronics and fractured digital corruption sounds like an army of Reznor‘s fighting for control in a digital wasteland; slap and pop peppers the hypnotically dancey “Satellite“; “Various Methods Of Escape” employs a vocal effect on the verses that sounds akin to a stranded astronaut lamenting his inevitable demise and “While I’m Still Here” brings out the horns—harkening back to the perhaps best forgotten track “Purest Feeling“.

It’s an especially mixed bag. Particularly when it comes to “Everything“—which finds Reznor paying homage to the new wave bands of the 80’s in one of his most ambitious steps out of his skin in ages. To say such a venture is either endearing or skip worthy rests entirely on the nostalgia and appreciation of that era held by the listener however. “Hesitation Marks” above all is boldly colored—even when often limited to Reznor‘s preferred corner of the sonic palette.

The first half of the album takes advantage of creative freedom and delivers a varied set of songs energized by some well developed concepts and clever choruses. The same can’t be said for the second half of the record though. It is there where density and the oppression of a cluster of melancholic, heady songs takes its toll.

In spite of some uneven results and sluggish second half, there are still innumerable flashes of the genius and eerie nuance that Reznor (and Atticus Ross) are known for. It isn’t their finest hour, but it still packs a considerable amount of highlights. Truly one can’t help but appreciate an artist who this late in his career is still intent on challenging both the listener and himself.

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