Release Date: Sep 3, 2013
Record label: Sony Music Entertainment
Like the tectonic plates of a stone heart dragging together... (no, no, that isn't the way to kick this off...) He wants you as a slave. He captures you. He lets you go, but stalks you, whispering from the shadows... (nor is that... maybe it's best to start at the beginning...). The first sound you ….
Retirement never suited Trent Reznor. A workaholic who tempers his obsessive nature with a healthy streak of perfectionism, Reznor has put Nine Inch Nails in hibernation before, but the difference between the five years separating 2013's Hesitation Marks and 2008's The Slip and his previous extended gaps -- the half-decade between 1994's The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, the six years between The Fragile and 2005's With Teeth -- is that Reznor didn't go into seclusion, he merely stepped away from NIN. David Fincher drafted him to score The Social Network in 2010 -- Trent received an Academy Award for his trouble -- and that same year he formed How to Destroy Angels with longtime collaborator Atticus Ross and Mariqueen Maandig.
We almost lost Trent Reznor. We almost lost Reznor, the powerful captain of industrial-rough rock and creative force behind Nine Inch Nails, to a drug overdose in 2000. Then we almost lost him to Hollywood after he scored the surprisingly sharp-edged soundtracks to David Fincher’s The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nine Inch Nails was on a five-year pause, during which we were hit in the face with EDM—a sugary, radio-friendly version of the electronic genre Reznor helped create.
Many people remember where they were, if they are of a certain age, when JFK was shot or, more recently, when the twin towers fell. I happen to remember where I was when I first heard albums and, in particular, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, released almost 20 years ago. I was driving in a small city with it playing in my cassette player, and it was an overcast and rainy evening.
In the 21st-century world of rock music, retirement announcements - like Nine Inch Nails' in 2009 - carry about as much weight as they do in professional wrestling. Still, it's somewhat surprising to see Trent Reznor dust off the band for another go-round. After all, the hiatus has proved fruitful, netting him an Oscar for his score for The Social Network.
When he broke out at the dawn of the ’90s with a selection of songs about suicide, slavery and fist-fucking, it probably wasn’t immediately obvious that Trent Reznor was future elder-statesman material. The passing years, though, have revealed a certain artfulness hardwired into Reznor’s brutal and brutalised industrial rock. He can certainly write a song – ‘Hurt’ was one of his, of course – while Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 masterpiece ‘The Downward Spiral’ demonstrated his gift for abbatoir atmospherics.
2013 is not just the year of the comeback. It has seen not only triumphant returns from celebrated artists like My Bloody Valentine, The Knife, and Daft Punk, but contemporary classics from each of those artists and from others who took extended hiatuses too. Joining them is Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails. For a while, it seemed as though Reznor’s How To Destroy Angels project with fellow film-scorer Atticus Ross and wife Mariqueen Maandig would be his next permanent endeavor.
"Thrive/Just become/Your disease," Trent Reznor shouts on this record, across crusty electronics and irritated-guitar chatter in a song called "In Two." Reznor is an excellent advertisement for that advice, a resilient, multiplatinum icon of feral machine music and lacerating self-examination. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Pretty Hate Machine, his debut as the founding singer-composer and main instrumentalist in Nine Inch Nails. But Hesitation Marks is an immediate reason to light the black candles.
How to Destroy Angels (Trent Reznor's post-Nine Inch Nails band, which sounded a hell of a lot like Nine Inch Nails) were billed as an equal collaboration between himself and his bandmates. But Reznor's sonic handprints unavoidably get on anything he touches and the similarities left many yearning for a return to the moniker that made him famous. Coming four years since he put NIN on hiatus, Hesitation Marks lacks How to Destroy Angels' more sonically adventurous moments, but brings back the tension and sense of menace that have always marked Reznor's best work.
"I am not who I used to be," sings Trent Reznor, which may be one explanation why he has reactivated Nine Inch Nails so soon after 2009's Wave Goodbye tour. Still, the NIN mainman is otherwise as good as his word: there are less of the pulverising rhythms and brain-mashing guitars for which the band are known. In come lithe, funky, electro-pop grooves that nod to Depeche Mode, LCD Soundsystem and even – yes – gay disco.
“I am just a shadow of a shadow of a shadow/ Always trying to catch up with myself”—this album is where Trent Reznor takes control of his musical identity the way he took the reins on the big bad record label situation for the last several years to prove he’s not a “slave” as he’s wont to say. He’s human after all; he wants to age gracefully while continuing to disturb people with noise. He wants to rail against something even if it’s just the stasis of maturity and complacency of being a rich studio genius.
Review Summary: Looks like the "bad bitch" part of Trent Reznor must have been out to lunch for the recording of his album Hesitation Marks." Thank God Trent Reznor dropped the pissed off schtick that hasn’t been genuine since the 90s. While his mid 2000s work was admirable in its own right, the aggressive emotions that plagued each album became sillier and less believable as time went on. And yes one could argue that this is the appeal to Nine Inch Nails, as the band’s first two albums are still regarded as landmark achievements.
Given how long it used to take Trent Reznor to produce a new Nine Inch Nails album (at least up until With Teeth), perhaps NIN's five years out of the spotlight can be treated less like a breakup and more like a hiatus (hell, that's what the Org's patriarch, Aubin Paul, called it back in 2009). And really, that breakup was more a step away from live performances anyway; Reznor stated at the time of NIN's farewell shows that he would still use the name. He just needed to knock out an Oscar and start a band with his wife first.Reznor seems to be making a winking a reference to NIN's short retirement with his new album, Hesitation Marks.
In the past decade, Nine Inch Nails have earned more notice for how they release their records than the songs that are actually on them. In his attempts to reach audiences beyond his faithful base of goths and gamers, Trent Reznor has embraced both high concepts (2007’s interactive song-cycle Year Zero) and low overhead (2008’s self-released offerings Ghosts I-IV and The Slip); even a guy who got famous by screaming needed a good news hook to get himself heard over the incessant din of a quick-click online-music marketplace. For his latest Nine Inch Nails release, Reznor is resorting to the most radical release strategy an independent-minded artist can employ in 2013: he’s re-signed to a major label.
What dulls the potency of adolescent rage the most pitilessly? Is it the pure onset of age? Is it the broadened perspective of life experience? Or maybe the burden of responsibility? How about the prestige that comes from accrued accomplishments? Any one of these things alone can probably snap most people from living inside their own heads to glumly signing away the next 30 years on a mortgage. But any one of them can just as easily ensure a dark phase elongates into a dark life. For that reason, there's a mark of poignancy in the title of Nine Inch Nails' new album.
In a recent interview, Trent Reznor alluded to feeling restricted creatively when recording under the Nine Inch Nails name. Throughout the 1990s, his band was the benchmark by which all other anxious, brooding electronic rock was measured; Reznor became a scowling poster boy for the alternative era's malcontent youth. It's a persona that almost destroyed—and clearly, still haunts—Reznor, and one it's unlikely he'll ever fully shake, despite cleaning up his life and expanding his musical style.
There are two reasons that Trent Reznor, the 48-year-old backbone of Nine Inch Nails, is worshipped. First, there is his group's second album, 1994's The Downward Spiral, which remains the ultimate soundtrack for every angry teenager needing music with which to piss off their parents. Reznor has said that, when recording it, he had "an unending bottomless pit of rage and self-loathing inside me".
Since Trent Reznor shelved Nine Inch Nails in 2009, the acclaimed songwriter, composer, singer, screamer, and weightlifter appeared to have realized something about his musical past that some had long known, and others might learn from his resurrection of Nine Inch Nails on Hesitation Marks: angst is a young person’s game. At 48 now, and 44 when NIN played a series of super-sold-out small venue shows in Los Angeles to conclude the Wave Goodbye Tour, Reznor’s departure from black-cloaked melodrama was beyond logical; it was necessary. The year of Nine Inch Nails’ shelving saw Reznor marry Mariqueen Maandig and begin How to Destroy Angels, a collaboration between the newlyweds and Atticus Ross.
On his first Nine Inch Nails album since 2008, Trent Reznor is bringing his A-game. There is nothing hesitant about this collection of songs which manage to be fraught with heated emotions while simultaneously composed of chilly, fidgety grooves. From the steady drip, synth-pop bubbliness of “Copy of A” to the woozy, time-warped drive of “Came Back Haunted” Reznor proves yet again that no one quite matches his skill for making dread so danceable.
Like everything Trent Reznor has created as Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks is a densely layered, ornately detailed set of seething, synth-heavy rock. He’s still able to mine personal existential crises for universal tales of angst, anger, and perseverance — even if he’s more likely to see silver linings than during his 90s heyday — yet as he approaches fifty years old and twenty five years as NIN, the underlying question that seems to gnaw at Reznor is “do you still have something important to say?” At the midpoint of Hesitation Marks are two songs originally intended for a (contractually-obligated) greatest hits compilation, songs that accidentally sparked Reznor’s decision to end his NIN hiatus with a full album. The first, ‘Everything’, rewires the pretty hate machine for major-key pop-rock: even if the end result is more Strokes than Skinny Puppy, the distorted wall of sound keeps it grounded in the band’s milieu.
When the press release came through announcing Nine Inch Nails’ return, there can’t honestly have been many people surprised by the news. Sure, Trent Reznor’s wave goodbye in 2009 might have looked conclusive, with the farewell tour stretching across multiple legs and the asset-stripping of all the band’s gear through eBay, but it never really felt sincere so much as a play for the cameras, an elaborate staging before the next act. Of course, that next act was pretty damn productive for Reznor, netting him an Oscar, two film scores for David Fincher, collaborations with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme and Karen O, a soundtrack credit for the world’s highest-selling videogame and a whole new band with a stage-headlining slot at Coachella, not to mention a family.
Striding back into view with an imperious swagger is Trent Reznor. After the least inactive ‘hiatus’ ever Reznor steps back into the guise of Nine Inch Nails promising to return to the industry-changing, self-destructing course of annihilation he’s sped forwards on since 1989.‘Hesitation Marks’ represents a renewed energy, at an almost unmatched level, packaged into something of a musical scrapbook; Trent Reznor’s audio fingerprint. It even eschews his traditional rage and anxiety in favour of more resolute and rational statements, with a greater degree of certainty and finality than anyone’s come to expect.
Oh, Trent Reznor. We want to hold you aloft on our shoulders and march through the centers of cities for raising the bar for electronics-based rock music, burning dramatic live shows and making sure film-music composer Hans Zimmer got one less Academy Award. Then we want to throw you down and kick you repeatedly in the balls and teeth when you embark on a “farewell” tour, only to return three years later and sign a contract with the major label responsible for enabling Train.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS Of all the rock bands who reigned over the ‘90s, only Radiohead rivals Nine Inch Nails in its influence on the music kids actually listen to today. As rock, like jazz and folk before it, becomes a beloved yet commercially irrelevant niche genre, Trent Reznor’s pioneering use of electronics on his early albums still sounds remarkably fresh, thanks to the ascendency of EDM and its infiltration into pop music. But Reznor’s legacy as an electronic artist was hardly a forgone conclusion.
As Trent Reznor will tell you on Hesitation Marks, the first Nine Inch Nails record in five years, he’s been everywhere, seen everything, and done it all. But unlike artists whose worldliness imports them wisdom, Reznor finds it a burden: to be so far removed from the ferocious recordings that built him a reputation of urgency and disruption, not just older but at this point simply old. His timeworn plot devices, the aggression and addiction and torture gymnastics, are by now irrelevant, and the one-off projects and movie scores could only last as long as he could stomach a dwindling cultural significance.
"I've beat myself up over the years and I need to try new things, I need to push myself, I need to break the machine, I need to step away from things that feel comfortable to me, and I think I'm still deep in the process of trying that. " Trent Reznor said this to me in an interview for the Quietus last autumn, shortly before he confirmed elsewhere that he'd be bringing back Nine Inch Nails in some new form in the near future. And so it's proved - single leaks, summer festival touring and now, given the de rigueur official promo leak and stream, a new album in full.
A simmering, claustrophobic aggression dots Nine Inch Nails' eighth studio album, "Hesitation Marks. ' It's within the lyrics of the opening track, "Copy of A," in which Trent Reznor's narrator in typical breathy monotone describes himself as "just a finger on a trigger on a finger. " It's at the center of "All Time Low," when he orders an unnamed other to "get down on the floor/shut the goddamn door.