Nine Inch Nails have held a special place in my heart since my mid-teens, when unnecessary, self-indulgent feelings of self-pity and social awkwardness were rife, and music was my best friend; a time when Trent’s pained voice, and The Downward Spiral would often accompany me on my own ‘downward spirals’, and ‘Hurt’ would be played on repeat. I therefore expected listening to NIN’s latest album to perhaps be a rather pained experience. However, though re-discovering my love affair with Trent Reznor has evoked mixed emotions, and re-researching his own struggles and incredible journey over the years has caused my cheeks to moisten more than once, it’s all ok. He’s not who he used to be, apparently, and neither am I.
‘Hesitation Marks’ is Reznor’s eighth album for NIN and is considerably lighter than 1994’s intense, industrial classic The Downward Spiral. The first album since 2008’s ‘The Slip’, and the subsequent breakup of the band following 2009’s ‘Wave Goodbye’ tour, ‘Hesitation Marks’ has less of the pulverising rhythms and vehement, angst-filled lyrics as its predecessors, and more of the electro-pop beats, with a distinctly peaceful, reflective tone.
Although some songs may even be bordering on the funky (‘Satellite’ and ‘Running’), if – like me – you do still have a soft spot for the brutal, tear-jerking force of classics such as ‘The Day The World Went Away’ or the angst-driven ‘Head Like A Hole’, worry not: the darkness remains. Perhaps in a more subtle way, but it’s there all the same. ‘Copy Of A’ and ‘Came Back Haunted’, for example, retain the characteristic rage and intensity of older material, whilst ‘Find My Way’ is a wonderfully eerie exploration of self-doubt and the struggle for identity. Reznor, however, admits to having mellowed over the years: “The despair and loneliness and rage… and the not-fitting-in aspect still is in me, but now I can express that in a way that feels more appropriate to who I am now. And often that rage is quieter.”
And so it seems that post rehab and fatherhood, Reznor has indeed changed. Having survived the traumas of depression, drug addiction and a subsequent overdose (having mistakenly taken China White Heroin, thinking it was cocaine…), he has come back fitter (have you seen those guns?!), happier and more productive than ever. Not only is he now a pioneer of the cyber DIY generation, he writes incredible soundtracks for incredible films AND has now created a masterpiece of an eighth album. As he proclaims in the surprisingly uplifting ‘Everything’, he has“Survived everything”, and I am eternally grateful that he did.
Written in solitude in order to hammer home the new Nails sound – with just Reznor and a drum machine alone in an office – ‘Hesitation Marks’ is possibly his most brilliant work to date. Whilst it retains the classic NIN pounding, industrial electro-rock alongside an incessant beat and haunting vocals, it is affecting in a different way from past material. Minimal, yet deeply spellbinding, this is the creation of an innovative and inspirational artist who has finally found himself – “I am home, I am free”.