After five long years of silence, Nine Inch Nails bring the noise once more with Hesitation Marks – Trent Reznor’s grooviest, sexiest and straight up best album in over a decade.
It’s not exactly uncommon for Nine Inch Nails to take several years off between projects so the five year wait fans have had to endure since 2008’s The Slip is nothing new. What is unexpected is just how energised Reznor and crew sound here. It would be unfair to say that recent Nine Inch Nails records were bad (The Slip was probably their best since their 90’s heyday) but it definitely felt like the project had slipped into something of a familiar groove. Hesitation Marks changes all that by actually bringing the grooves – not since The Downward Spiral has Reznor crafted such darkly danceable material.
There’s still plenty of grinding guitars and angst here of course but for the first time in a long time beats are pushed to the fore. Tracks like Copy of A and Came Back Haunted rocket along on the kind propulsive synths and kick drums that powered Pretty Hate Machine all those years ago. It’s a deliberate look back and one that works, giving many of the tracks here an inescapable sense of momentum. Hell, standout track Everything even features an honest to goodness pop hook and (gasp!) vocal harmonies.
What stops Hesitation Marks from feeling like a retread of the group’s finest moments is the ever so slight shift in tone here. Reznor is still a troubled man, but he’s not the self-loathing suicide case of The Downward Spiral, nor is he the broken shell of The Fragile. On Hesitation Marks, Reznor removes the noose he’s had around his neck for the past 20 years and looks to the future. There’s emotional turmoil here to be sure (tracks like I Would For You prove that Reznor can still sulk with the best of them) but there’s also a sense of hope that’s new to his work. “Yesterday I found out the world was ending” he intones on album closer While I’m Still Here, before adding, “I don’t mind. I’m ok.” I’m inclined to believe him.