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[Album Review] Nine Inch Nails ‘Hesitation Marks’

Review By Lauren Rae

Let me state for the record now that I am a huge Nine Inch Nails fan and I have been since 1994. So, like many fans, when Trent Reznor bombarded us with a single, album news and tour dates back in June after having called it quits and putting on the band’s final show in September 2009, I was ecstatic, if not a little curious. Yes, I expected that eventually he’d make his way back to what essentially is his baby. But a lot has changed in that space of time in which NIN was not prevalent; scoring movies, winning Oscars, raising a family, starting a whole new band and dropping an album. All those can take a toll. And all those can change a sound and a musician’s perspective. Also, let’s face it; the man’s not in rage mode anymore, and a good chunk of his catalogue is filled with anger, fear, self-loathing, and questions. So what tricks could he have up his sleeve that could shape an album’s worth of songs?

Well, if you’re good at your game, you can tap into that vein whenever you’d like. But I’m thinking that he’s possibly tapped it dry at this point.

Now, before the überfans start flipping out, let me cast my safety net (and paraphrase from a friend a tad): much like with Bowie, Trent’s constantly trying to reinvent himself. Which, despite my ‘meh’ feelings about Hesitation Marks, is a good thing. Take a look at his catalogue; ‘formulaic’ is not in the man’s vocabulary. If he fails at a latest endeavor, at least we’re still getting listenable music. It may not be the best, but it’s better than most.

The first word that popped in my head was ‘minimalist’. Which, while not always a bad thing, leaves an overall lackluster feeling to the album, and actually makes me feel as though ‘Came Back Haunted’ was rather misleading. The first single off a new album is supposed to set the tone, and it did not.

Unfortunately, because of this, not much about album’s content really stood out. It starts and ends quietly (well as quiet as Reznor can get in relation to NIN), and maintains that quiet throughout much of the album. ‘Copy of A’ has a catchy beat, but it seems like Trent made a rather feeble attempted at channeling his inner Tyler Durden. ‘Everything’ fits lyrically, but musically it’s just completely out of place, like a kandi kid raving at the local goth club’s Old School Night. And there is no real flow with the music on Hesitation Marks. There is consistency with the theme and the lyrics. But the tone is just all over, and that’s disconcerting. Also – if I’m able to zone out during the first listen, well, that’s not a good sign.

That’s not to say that everything about this is bad. You can definitely pick out the influences of Halos past. Remove the lyrics from ‘Running’ and you’re listening to what seems like a great Ghosts track. And I can see ‘I Would For You’ being released as a single; it carries that build-up-and-boom that’s become classic NIN.

The Final Word: While Hesitation Marks is not an album I’d completely disregard, it would definitely not be the first album I’d recommend to anyone getting familiar with Nine Inch Nails. It left me feeling very ‘meh’. It’s not that Trent’s irrelevant. But it seems like he’s said all he has to say, and had to scramble to say more. Just call it a day, please.

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