Nine Inch Nails
Hesitation Marks - COLUMBIA
FILTER Grade: 87%
By Zachary Sniderman on September 3, 2013
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. Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks, named for the preliminary track marks of would-be suicide victims, is a master class and a reassurance that the artist’s five years away were five years well spent. Starring Reznor’s scarred vocals and surprise cameos from Lindsey Buckingham and Adrian Belew, Hesitation Marks is sad and angry and excellent, combining the vitriol of Reznor’s early years with his maturity as a producer and sound technician. The album opens with creaks and cranks, like Reznor’s machinery is learning to move again. “Copy of A,” the second song, shows no rust. It is unsettling and amorphous; a wobbly synth sequence anchored by a dry snare snap. Reznor sings about the infinite replicability of our social media era like a sadistic, tech-angry M.C. Escher. The song picks up these themes, looping and cutting Reznor’s vocals over themselves. It’s great, but it’s also a softer anger than, say (obviously), “Closer.” Reznor always sounded like he was singing through his teeth, like an animal backed into a corner lashing out at his handlers, but Hesitation Marks shows restraint, taking cues from his soundtrack work. It can scorch your headphones, but there are moments of beauty. “In Two” cracks open at the halfway mark with Reznor cooing, “I just don’t know anymore,” while “Find My Way” is a piano-y haze just scratching his falsetto. Sure, the societal spying and corruption Reznor forecast in The Slip has played out, but Hesitation Marks is a triumphal I-told-you-so, still whispering for rebellion.