Trent Reznor's "Hesitation Marks" - the Face of New Nine Inch Nails
Five Years Later
Back for More?
In 2009, Trent Reznor--the heart and soul of Nine Inch Nails--stepped down from touring, admitting that it was time he take his life in a different direction.
Now, in 2013, he's back on stage; and he's brought a new album with him-- "Hesitation Marks," his first lovechild under NIN since "The Slip" in 2008.
But a lot has changed since then. Reznor, now a married man, has worked on the score for numerous films and video games; started a new musical project with his wife and long-time collaborator Atticus Ross, and has toured and released several albums under "How To Destroy Angels."
But after all these years, personal changes, and life events--can his recent reincarnation of industrial heavyweight Nine Inch Nails still stand up to what it used to be?
Finding his Way
Hesitation Marks--titled after the initial cuts of hesitation someone attempting suicide makes while contemplating the final decision--does not come blazing through the entrance, guns cocked and loaded; ready to fire relentlessly upon the eardrums of any chance listener the way NIN was once expected to. Instead, it seems to brush itself off after a long period of self-discovery, and takes its place before the public eye; patiently ready to dig even deeper into itself.
The album begins with "Copy of A," a song in which Reznor reminisces about the concept of having nothing new to offer: "everything I say has come before" (which, interestingly, doesn't seem to be true in this case).
The tracklist then moves on to "Came Back Haunted," the first single from the new album prior to its release on September 3rd. Sounding like it could have been something straight from The Slip, this song lingers on some familiar vein that will prove to manifest itself in surprising ways throughout the rest of the album.
"Find My Way," the next track on the album, returns to Trent's more vulnerable and more introspective self. He spares a glance back at "the ghosts of who [he] used to be," in the same soft, melancholy manner as "And All That Could Have Been." Perhaps the best example of the album's theme in looking behind at who one once was and subsequently longing for a brighter future, this song flawlessly draws us in and sets the mood for the next song, "All Time Low."
After following along this vein for the next few songs, however; a sharp, fluorescent needle suddenly jabs us in the artery and injects us with "Everything," a blindingly bizarre ray of sunshine fighting for its place beside the more morose melodies before it. "I survived everything," Trent exclaims in the opening line, lifting us high into an optimisitcally chaotic, fast-paced song that steadily leads Trent into declaring that he's "become something else," and not sounding very much like anything I imagined could have been birthed from NIN. However, in an interview with NPR radio, Reznor admitted that he meant it to sound "kind of absurd"--and he certainly did.
Running to the Beginning Again
The final song on the album (prior to the instrumental exit), "While I'm Still Here," stands out to me because of the way it faithfully carries all that's come before it, and sits appropriately at the end. The lyrics "stay with me/ hold me near/ while I'm still here" seem to string together the fear of falling behind, or out-of-touch, or altogether. The saxophone near the final moments of the song seem to nudge us back to Purest Feeling, the earliest (and officially unreleased work) of Trent Reznor's very roots as Nine Inch Nails, and seems to bring it all full-circle. Finally, it fizzles out into "Black Noise," and at last it seems like all is shifting back into what it ought to be.
Generally speaking, public opinion tends to fluctuate to extremes; from die-hard fans who inhale every new fleck of work to bitter critics who can't seem to peel their eyes from minuscule flaws, any fresh drop in still water is bound to stir a mix of emotions. While Hesitation Marks is not tied to Trent's tried-and-true foundation of raw anger, frustration, and seething self-destruction, it still very aware of itself, and what it means to be named Nine Inch Nails.
Even after all this time, it breathes out that familiarly unsettling dark ambience; that sinister synth-based wisp of emotion that's as much the lifeblood of NIN as is its still-loyal fanbase. It dips its toes in new ideas, and smears them with old ones. It ranges from the haunting nostalgia of old to the bold new blend of peppy pop-punk that is "Everything," yet somehow manages to stand up to the shadow of what it once was (even if awkwardly, to some people).
Even amongst all the praise and criticism, though, I believe something as frothy and delicate as freshly-made music deserves to be taken in doses; it should be listened through first just to develop a feel for it. For a long-time fan, it may sound especially foreign. But within an album you're bound to find something you can recognize--something you can take in your hands and claim as your own. A good artist creates something not exclusively significant to him, but under the pretense that others will attach their own meaning to the emotions and lyrics as well.
Hesitation Marks may not be everything everyone expected, or even what they wanted; but it's much a part of the Nine Inch Nails legacy (and just as necessary) as Pretty Hate Machine or Year Zero.
And after all, experimenting with his sound and continuing to compose what rings true to himself--instead of everyone else--is something no one can justly deny Trent Reznor has ever failed to achieve.