Best Albums of 2013: #9
9. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Almost 25 years since NIN’s debut album, Trent Reznor proves he’s still got some electronic snarl left to unleash.
Faces in the Crowd*
Trent Reznor is the most versatile musician alive. You could make a case for Dave Grohl, Sufjan Stevens, or even Prince. But the answer is Reznor. He IS Nine Inch Nails, one of the preeminent rock bands of the last 30 years. I mean that literally; he is the only member. Seriously, what hasn’t Reznor done? Grammy awards? He’s got 3, and he couldn’t give less of a shit about them. He’s sold over 30 million albums worldwide. Some guys write film scores their entire lives and never win anything- Reznor has been doing it for 4 years and already has a Grammy and an Academy Award. In short, he’s good at whatever he decides to do.
There are, I think, 2 bands I’ve ever listened to where, if someone tells me they aren’t a fan, I know it’s because they haven’t listened enough- Nine Inch Nails, and The Beatles. EVERYBODY can find a song they like in their respective libraries. You want a heart-wrenching ballad? Try Hurt. One of the funkiest goddamn dance tunes ever created? Closer. In your face, searing rock & roll? Check out Love Is Not Enough. Reznor, in essentially trying to alienate people with weird, unapproachable music, has actually written a song for everybody at some point or another. Knowing Trent Reznor is listening to him; while sounds have changed during his 25 year career, the level of genuineness in every Nine Inch Nails song has stayed constant.
Trent Reznor is a journeyman. He’s gotten himself into a wide array of artistic endeavors and hasn’t really ever looked anything short of brilliant doing it. He’s scored films, appeared in various side projects and even has produced or contributed vocals for certain acts in a few different genres. And over the past decade or so, Reznor has transformed himself for the better. He got sober, he’s married with children and seems to be happy. With Reznor’s lifestyle change, one would believe that the anger and raw emotion that came with Nine Inch Nails catalog would fade or disappear, but never fear. Reznor has sort of traded in some of his emotional themes in for a wider array of styles to play with. With Reznor’s early work, the lack of happiness in his life required him to long for certain things. The emotional needs were what fueled Nine Inch Nails. The industrial, electronic landscape has only broadened over the past decade, with many groups and artists drawing from the foundation that Nine Inch Nails had set out. It’s understandable that certain listeners may have felt a little uninterested to hear a much more mature, older Trent Reznor. So, where does someone who is already sitting on a mountain of great work go when their emotional need is a bit tuned out? This is where Hesitation Marks comes into play.
The album starts out with a bang in “Copy of A” , where Reznor seems to be claiming that individuality is in short supply. Even he is just a “copy of” another person. Just when the production begins to get a little repetitive or boring it breaks out into something else. It starts out with this keyboard melody that just is kind of robotic. Then one by one, Reznor throws in sound after sound and then in between each chorus the production breaks into this guitar riff that serves almost like a siren over top of the drums and spazzy keyboard melody.
The albums lead single “Came Back Haunted” is essentially alluding to Reznor’s earlier NIN work. The track is so ghostly, and obviously it’s intentional. Reznor claims that he “just can’t stop” and I find myself cheering him on because at this point I’m all in on this record, even after two songs. “Find My Way” is covered in a lot of religious imagery and the production on the track is very space-y. Background vocals and croons fade in the background, almost as if Reznor is trying to make us believe that he’s being chased by his demons but he still remains optimistic in a very unique way. “All Time Low” is Reznor’s tip of the cap to Prince with his own NIN sound attached to it. This thing is so muhphuqqin funky. There is a hint at Reznor’s addiction when he uses lines like “so give me just a little, baby” or “how did we get so high?” but still he remains very vague in the sense where the songs could have a few different themes behind them.
Tracks like “Disappointed”, “Running” and “I Would for You” seem to have a similar edge to them. They almost resemble something I would have heard on the new Atoms for Peace album but just before you begin to draw comparisons between the two, Reznor breaks into another realm or style that sets these songs apart. Particularly, “I Would for You”, when it breaks out this heavy guitar riff over this rapid drum loop. It such an awesome moment towards the back half of the album. In the seventh track, “Everything”, he breaks out this quick punk riff while talking about how much he has overcome and even how much he’s accomplished. It’s a real upbeat track that I think almost anyone can enjoy.
“Satellite” is a track that has so much going for it. It’s very gothic on one end but there are a few grooves that constantly keep turning up and it turns out to be as upbeat as it is brooding. The lyrical content on many of these tracks seem to be based around Trent’s control of himself. He seems to be struggling with himself until the very last track “While I’m Still Here.” In this track Trent seems to be at peace but also eager to enjoy the world while he still has it in front of him. It’s a fitting end to an album that details the process of which its creator seems to be painfully shedding his old skin. For Trent Reznor, his most difficult battles are over, that is for sure. Still, we find him eager to find something within himself. Reznor is no longer trying to express his pain and angst but instead trying to overcome it, even if he has great difficulty doing so. Hesitation Marks is a sign of Reznor’s maturation but shouldn’t be confused with an increase in tenderness. Nine Inch Nails is still very much making bad ass industrial rock songs that are as aggressive as they are infectious. What’s changed is the man behind these bad ass tracks and in that change we’ve found that Reznor’s living demons have only faded into the past of his real life, but still they remain alive in the form of his music. Ha-ha-haunted, indeed.
Listen to “Copy of A” by Nine Inch Nails:
BEST ALBUMS OF 2013