Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

The Null Corporation/Columbia

Like Jay Z and Michael Jordan Trent Reznor wasn’t gonna retire Nine Inch Nails early. Unlike Hov and His Airness the “Prince of Pain” has managed to return from brief retirement in better shape than when he said goodbye. (For the record yes I am saying Jay Z has not put out a great album since The Black Album and I am referring to Jordan’s second retirement. Obviously not the first one.)

If you eyeball the Nine Inch Nails discography on Wikipedia it’s not difficult to determine that the last truly great record Reznor has released was 1994’s The Downward Spiral . Yes The Fragile and The Slip were good and With Teeth Year Zero and Ghosts I-IV were okay but 19 years is a long time to wait for excellence. But here we are with the eighth Nine Inch Nails studio album 25 years after forming and I’ve gotta say Trent has made his third best album.

For a guy who based a lot of his music on his pain and suffering getting married having a couple of kids starting another band with his wife and winning an Oscar should have totally messed up his game. I suppose he exorcised the demons long ago but who would’ve realized that the good life would inspire him to make something so good so late in the game?

Reznor doesn’t sound very tortured these days which is good because nappy-changing wouldn’t believably constitute the same kind of anguish as heroin addiction alcoholism and depression. He’s still immersed in darkness though using ominous tones and textures alongside aggro lyrics but everything comes with more clarity determination and contentment than ever before (i.e. his nonchalance over the world ending on “While I’m Still Here”).

As someone who’s tried virtually every style of music there is (remember that hip-hop beat at the beginning of “Ruiner”?) Reznor has wisely settled into a mostly electronic oeuvre. Contrary to The Slip ’s beefy guitar-driven punch-in-the-face Hesitation Marks is a more minimal tech-heavy and contemporary sounding record.

Recorded with Atticus Ross and Alan Moulder the production runs the gamut with minimal use of live drums and guitars. One minute things are pulsating and droning like Cabaret Voltaire on “Copy of A” while the next they jump into Pretty Hate Machine -type goth pop beats on “Satellite” that’d suit Charli XCX nicely.

It sounds like the most fun he’s had with Nine Inch Nails ever: Copping !!!’s delayed groove and slinky riffs on the hypnotic “All Time Low” and indulging in a sunny radio-friendly rock song called “Everything” where he admits he survived it all and is now free. (Wait till you have teenagers dude.)

Reznor has publicly admitted that he is no longer the doomed individual who made masochistic industrial rock. His self-awareness is partly why Hesitation Marks is such an enjoyable easily digestible album. He’s more focused than ever and I’d say he’s returned to the form he was in when he made his first two records. Long live Trent Reznor the happy-go-lucky family man.