Key Tracks: “Copy of A,” “Came Back Haunted”
The most immediate thing about “Hesitation Marks” is that Trent Reznor went through some changes in his time off from Nine Inch Nails. There’s no way of knowing what, but forming a band with his wife and winning, of all things, an Academy Award both seem to have livened him up, just a little. “Hesitation Marks” is distinctly a Nine Inch Nails record – lengthy, synth-based tracks with many layers of sound. But there is something gone, and it’s the gloom-and-doom feel. I hesitate to say it’s ‘missing’ because Reznor never really sounds like he’s trying to recapture it. Instead of lyrics about fear of religion and death and mutilation, there’s more inward songs about betrayal and personal responsibility. There may be keyboards and synthesizers abound, but the songs are more structured and sound more accessible than previous Nine Inch Nails records. Reznor did something no one saw coming. He made a rock album.
This isn’t a bad thing, either, because it works for the most part. The album starts off with a 52 second intro, before kicking off with two of the faster songs, “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted.” A majority of the songs hover in the 5-6 minute range and follow typical rock song structures. The songs generally get slower as the album goes on, before ending with a 1:29 instrumental outro. Reznor concocted a typical rock album, just one that lacks in guitar.
“Hesitation Marks” lacks the heaviness that is present on nearly all of his past albums. “The Downward Spiral” was one of the best albums of the 90’s because of it’s wicked and menacing layers of volume. “Ruiner” actually sounded like an empire collapsing, and “March of the Pigs” was a better punk song than most punk bands are capable of writing. The layers are present on “Hesitation Marks,” but the outward anger is gone, both lyrically and musically. Instead, we get a more early-80’s sound, like Reznor opening the door a bit for Depeche Mode. While it’s disappointing on paper, Reznor still pulls it off remarkably. The album drags at points, and it’s less memorable than most NIN records, but it is still its own great thing. This is a different side of Reznor, still angry but at different targets, and flirting with commercialism. And at 61 minutes long, there’s a lot of it to take in.
-By Andrew McNally