Friday, August 30, 2013

Hesitation Marks

Ever since Nine Inch Nails called it quits, temporarily, in 2009, Trent Reznor has been on a creative roll; scoring soundtracks for two David Fincher films (one great, one not so great) with Atticus Ross, scoring a popular video game, and within the past year, making new music with his side band, How To Destroy Angels, in which his wife sings lead in. Today he is a happy, family man. He's sworn off drugs and alcohol for years now, so it's understandable his current state of mind is more or less reflected in NIN's latest album, one we never thought we expect to hear so soon. Every NIN album since Pretty Hate Machine has brought something sonically stunning to the table, and Hesitation Marks is no different. This time however, they've decided to make the album more electronic and synth heavy, and place less emphasis on guitar noise & distortion, not that there's anything wrong with that. Personally it takes a bit getting used to the occasional Depeche Mode, funky, new-age hip-hop beats and drum loops. Still the songs have that undeniable signature NIN sound, albeit being a little quieter in volume and subtler in their melodic changes. I can't wait to get my hands on the vinyl next week and taste that really deep low end on the sub.

There are musical flashes of The Downward Spiral, With Teeth, and especially Year Zero and Ghosts on this record, but when it comes to Reznor's songwriting, the quality of his lyrics are rather inconsistent. I know we can't expect to have any of those angst and self-loathing lyrics he was so well known for in the past, but occasionally his words seem a tad bit contrived and uninspired, like on the surprisingly poppy (very un-NIN-like) Everything for example. There are a few exceptions though, like Satellite, a funky anthem about paranoia, (though I can't help but think it's as if Timbaland collaborated with Trent), or even Copy Of A (featuring Lindsey Buckingham on guitar), brilliant in its simplicity; I love how in Copy Of A the loud portion three quarters of the way gets gradually softer. No matter how many times I've heard the single, Came Back Haunted, it still sounds refreshing in the context of a full album. The best track is Various Methods Of Escape; lush sonic textures and perfectly executed in every way possible. I must say, despite its (lyrical) flaws, Hesitation Marks is a musically captivating album, and I applaud Reznor for challenging himself and his audience by heading towards a new direction. He gives us what we don't expect and may not like immediately but we are absorbed by it, and if we stay with it long enough, we are moved. It's a rewarding listen.