Nine Inch Nails
Before getting to some words about the brand new Nine Inch Nails release HESITATION MARKS, let me first share my opinion of Trent Reznor and his career to date. Personally, I think he's an innovator and a genius. His past work, in my eyes, is some of the most creative and aurally challenging material ever recorded. Sure, some of it has been easy to digest. Certainly PRETTY HATE MACHINE and THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL were simple to digest when we were all in our 20s with a lot of angst. Other releases though, like THE FRAGILE, were akin to new age versions of Pink Floyd's THE WALL or Roger Waters' subsequent solo release THE PROS AND CONS OF HITCHHIKING; all releases that really made you concentrate as much on the whole concept as much as the more simple pieces of the story that were divided into songs. People are making a big deal about Reznor coming back right now after a five year hiatus. Most are forgetting that his hiatus came on the back of three consecutive subpar efforts (YEAR ZERO, GHOSTS and THE SLIP). Still, Reznor has returned with a release that's being dubbed as "a return to the sound of THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL".
Well, it's definitely not a return in any form, although it's a damn fine album in it's own right. To compare it to THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL is completely inaccurate. That release was so chaotic and threatening; tales of a damaged psyche falling into chaos before an eventual suicide. HESITATION MARKS is more of a question mark on one's existence. It's certainly not the frenzied experience, but more of a mature look at the desolation of a lost soul without diving fully into the rebellious explosiveness that established Reznor. In many ways, HESITATION MARKS reminds me a lot more of THE FRAGILE, where all the knob turning in the studio acted to almost clear the picture of the density of Reznor's soul. There are songs here that are simply brilliant. "While I'm Still Here", with it's creepy mix and eerie pacing is one of the best, most moving songs of Reznor's recorded career. Other songs like "Find My Way" certainly grab that pained ambiance that Reznor found so successfully with "Hurt" and has maintained at some point on each album throughout his career that followed.
There are songs on this album that are not great though, to be fair. The single, "Copy Of A", is a fairly tepid song that sounds like what another band trying to sound like Nine Inch Nails might come up with. There's just something a little too studio enhanced and a lot too lacking lyrically about this song for it to be considered worthy of Reznor's catalog. Maybe it's just the overuse of repetition in the song, but whatever it is, the song is not very good. Ultimately though, most of the material is pretty much what you would expect from an older, more mature Trent Reznor. Songs like "Everything" and "Came Back Haunted" are fun in their darkness, which is pretty much my review of the entire release to be honest.
PITRIFF RATING - 82/100 - Quite frankly, I think the days of sheer brilliance from Trent Reznor are over. That said though, he still always finds a way to challenge listeners enough with new material to keep it interesting. HESITATION MARKS is a solid effort that's far better than the last three or four releases, but it's certainly not the return to THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL that has been hyped in the hipster press. Regardless though, I'm glad to have some new NIN in the iPod.