Nine Inch Nails
If I were to sit down and make two lists, one featuring my favorite studio artists and one featuring my favorite live artists, I doubt there would be much crossover. One band that would certainly make both lists is Nine Inch Nails, my favorite live show and easily one of my top five studio artists. Understandably, I was pumped to find out Trent Reznor and co. would be releasing a new studio album and embarking on a massive world tour this year. But as with most high profile releases, Hesitation Marks carried lofty expectations most records can’t hope to fulfill. So while NIN’s latest doesn’t break the mold on the artist, popular music, or anything really, I’m happy to say that at least it is a good album that shows no break in the attention to detail, quality songwriting, and emotional intensity we have come to expect from Reznor.
Bookended by an atmospheric intro and outro in “The Eater of Dreams” and “Black Noise”, what falls in the middle is closer to With Teeth than any other album Reznor has put out throughout his career. It’s ostensibly a very hook-based album focusing on tight song structures rather than the experimental meandering of masterpiece The Fragile.
There are two things about Hesitation Marks that certainly must be noted. First, the songs may be the most consistently delicate he has written in his career. “Find My Way” and “While I’m Still Here” highlight this side of the album, while “All Time Low” carries the banner of funk, and lead singles “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted” harken back to the style most easily attributed to Nine Inch Nails. Overall, the album manages to throw in a bit of everything Reznor does very well. He is now an artist that is completely aware of his strengths and he plays to them nicely.
As always, there a couple tracks that don’t quite take off, due mostly probably to overindulgence in the production, but it’s better to see an artist trying to do too much on a particular track than rehashing old material. Hesitation Marks will be a grower and maybe even find itself as one of my favorites of the year. Time will tell.
Not to be too boring, but many of Austin’s thoughts on Hesitation Marks also came immediately to my mind when listening to the album. For one, the album is extremely hook-heavy (really world-class driving music), with many very tight pop songs filling the album out. I also connected it most to With Teeth, which was also had his most ready-made singles built in.
Also, Reznor is mostly sticking to his strengths here, sticking with only the best elements from the idiosyncratic NIN sound. There are a couple wrinkles though. The album is more groove-centric than any other album NIN has done, which strikes me as a very Talking Heads influenced move, a band that Reznor has unabashedly praised throughout his career. Songs like “Running” and “Copy of A” have a Fear of Music vibe, the way they build layers upon layers on dark, primal grooves. The band is even doing a Stop Making Sense-inspired stage show for this world tour, which isn’t a subtle influence in the least: in fact certain aspects of it, are taken straight from the legendary live show with little to no change. The second wrinkle is “Everything”, one of the few songs Reznor has ever produced in a clear major key, actually sounding like a very positive, life-affirming song: initially a weird look for Reznor except the song kills. It has very melodic Cure-like guitar riffs and a punchy, enduring spirit.
This is not a groundbreaking album and probably could have been a track or two shorter, but all in all, this is a more-than-fine late career album from Reznor that will be worth returning to years later.
Nine Inch Nails is usually one band that all three of us at LxL tend to totally agree on. Live shows and studio work alike, Wes, Austin, and I see pretty much eye to eye on Trent’s career. This album is no exception. It adds up to a fairly boring read, so for that we apologize. There is just not much controversy to be had here. The album is great, especially for someone this late in his career that has decided to go with a new sound without abandoning his roots. Yes, there is a track or two extra on the album, but it’d be hard to decide which track to even cut, so why not just keep them all.
One thing I found funny was how some of these tracks could almost be taken to the dance floor. Songs like “Disappointed”, “Satellite”, and “I Would For You” all begin with some bouncy beats that would have you believe you were about to be clubbin’. That vibe gets slightly defused when vocals kick in, but not entirely so. It is certainly the happiest, most bright we have heard from a NIN album thus far. The With Teeth comparison is justified, but Hesitation Marks still stands as Reznor;s most positive sounding work yet. As I said in my short breakdown of the song “Everything” a few weeks ago, this old dog still has some new tricks left in him, and for that Trent Reznor, we thank you.
Aggregate Score: 8.7/11
Can’t Miss: “Find My Way”, “While I’m Still Here”, “All Time Low” , “Copy of A” , “Everything”, “Disappointed”, “Satellite”
Can’t Hit: None In Particular