While Pretty Hate Machine to this day remains an amazing first effort, Nine Inch Nails’ claim to fame was undoubtedly 1994’s The Downward Spiral, a concept album steeped in darkness and depression, a vessel for front man Trent Reznor’s personal angst, drama and substance abuse.
The year 2013, almost 20 years later, saw the release of Hesitation Marks, a companion pieces to the album that featured NIN classics ‘Closer’ and ‘Hurt’. Much has changed for Reznor: he’s happily married, a father, a successful and renowned artist, not only because of NIN, but also because Reznor and longtime collaborator Atticus Ross scored two motion pictures, one of which netted them the Oscar for Best Original Score. “I started really thinking a lot about who I was back in the Downward Spiral days,” Reznor explains, “about who I was then and who I’ve become now… how I’ve changed internally, et cetera.” The result is an album that doesn’t simply echo old work, but uses the past as a springboard to get to a new place.
“I just can’t stop, I came back haunted,” Reznor states on debut single ‘Came Back Haunted’, and it is a line that rings true: after 2009’s Wave Goodbye Tour Reznor dabbled in film scoring and making music with other band How To Destroy Angels. From both efforts it was abundantly clear that he still had a lot to say, but he wasn’t afraid to explore different territory under a different guise. Now NIN’s been revived Trent’s a better, richer songwriter and person, someone who’s at peace but still restless. The remnants of past work are still presents here, but looked at differently: there’s less anger now, more acceptance of the things Reznor can’t change, the firm realization that ups and downs aren’t meant to last, and that there’s a comfort to be had in that, makes up a large portion of the album’s lyrics. “I’m okay, nothing ever stays the same,” he whispers on closing track ‘While I’m Still Here’, a fresh breath of air and optimistic notion in the NIN catalog.
But the album’s not just a joy lyrically: musically it has just as much to offer. From the pulsating beat and techno influences of ‘Copy of A’ to the funk sound of ‘All Time Low’, the meditative simplicity and quiet of ‘Find My Way’ and the triphop-ish ‘Satellite’, Hesitation Marks offers a journey, that accentuates Reznor’s personal growth perfectly. This diversity is one of the album’s crowning achievements, another is that because of it the album feels like a masterfully created whole. There’s no disparity here, but just songs complementing each other and presenting the listener with interesting ideas all the way through.
With Hesitation Marks Trent Reznor has created one of the best Nine Inch Nails albums. It’s a marvel to behold, an album that gets better with repeated listenings and a piece that can proudly stand next to classic albums The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. 9/10