Nine Inch Nails
Released on: September 3rd, 2013
Label: Columbia/The Null Corporation
Grade: 4.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Neil Miller, Jr.
What was once thought unthinkable is now right before our very ears. Trent Reznor swore off Nine Inch Nails years ago as both a recording and touring entity in order to focus on "life," for the most part, and his very mediocre (especially by the standards we hold him to) side project with his wife, How To Destroy Angels. While the HTDA tour was a success as any Trent Reznor live production would be, the album didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Chalk up the return of Nine Inch Nails to that if you must, but music fans worldwide are just happy to have the Nails back both onstage and on record. Hesitation Marks is a blistering return to form for Trent, especially after the last handful of mishmash albums he released under the moniker. Sure, they were great works when held up against other modern music at the time, but when compared to the rest of his catalog… well, they fell short in comparison to The Fragile or The Downward Spiral. So, just how good is this new chapter in the Nine Inch Nails saga?
Hesitation Marks is damn good. Forgiving a few missteps like the cheeseball surf-rock guitars of “Everything” and the well-produced but going-nowhere “Find My Way,” this is the Nine Inch Nails record we’ve been waiting for since 1999. Okay, Year Zero was pretty awesome, but this record fits neatly into Reznor’s lush oeuvre of work he’s amassed legions of religiously die-hard fans over. From the opening arpeggiated synth of “Copy of A” paired with the lo-fi beat likely courtesy of some stock 909 drums, it almost feels like Trent is eschewing the last couple of decades altogether to harken back to his Pretty Hate Machine days. Even better, it doesn’t sound like a cheap copy (no pun intended) — minus the pristine vocal production he turns in, Reznor could’ve released this in 1989 and no one would’ve batted an eyelash. The same could be said for the album’s first single, “Came Back Haunted,” which miraculously came with a David Lynch-produced video — doesn’t that seem like something that should’ve happened ages ago? For a song that would’ve sounded perfect between “Kinda I Want To” and “Sin” on PHM, it makes perfect sense that it be put together with a wildly absurd and visually jarring Lynch video.
My personal favorite track on the album, “All Time Low,” is a hefty slab of that rare style of funk Reznor has churned out in the past for some of his best cuts such as “Suck” and “Into the Void.” It’s not often that Trent lets his Prince flag fly, but it’s here that he gets his groove on through an angular guitar riff and that sweet falsetto we’ve come to know, love, and appreciate from him. Trudging through the rest of Hesitation Marks, it’s quite evident that this is more than just a reboot for Nine Inch Nails — it’s a mission statement. For the hardcore fans (like myself) who’ve been loyal since the beginning, the production on the drum tracks — mostly provided by drum machines — is a love letter to his Pretty Hate Machine days. The lyrical content is dark, morose, and not so blatantly political (*cough cough* Year Zero) like The Fragile.
If Reznor intended this album to be the next Downward Spiral, as the album font and artwork would suggest, though, it’s far from that. Fans who are waiting for a retelling of that story might as well give up on it because it seems that the aesthetic qualities of the album cover here will be as close as you’ll get to having that again. This is NIN moving into the future, and it couldn’t sound any better. The production is solid as you’d expect from Trent Reznor, the riffs are crunchy for those of us who prefer the harder edge of his sound, and the lyrics have gotten less serious and more relatable. This is material that will certainly hold up live onstage this fall for Nine Inch Nails’ arena tour, and you can bet your bottom dollar that this is a record that will help fill those seats to capacity. So, thank the heavens — we have another Halo to add to the collection, and it's official... Trent Reznor is most certainly back and ready to rock again.
Nine Inch Nails
Released on: September 3rd, 2013
Label: Columbia/The Null Corporation
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Pawl Schwartz
It may take some people a while to get into this album, it may even seem lukewarm to them at first, but like Trent did with Year Zero, this album gets better and better with every listen. It's one of those albums like Kid A that needs repeated plays to reveal itself. It is an electronic album, not a rock album. The sound here is not “THE NEW DWS” like everyone screams each time a new NIN album comes out, but is instead somewhere between Witha Teeth and Year Zero. It sounds exactly like Trent noticed the trend with dubstep somehow grabbing hold of the cultural consciousness, the obscenely electronic bent of modern pop music, and bands like Daft Punk achieving legendary status, and he decided to scoop up some of that fan base. He's not wrong to do so — there are a million people at least who love Daft Punk and don't realize that they also love NIN. He just needed to make an album like this, more honed than Ghosts but just as electronic and weird, to draw these people in. This is to NIN what the Thom Yorke The Eraser album was to Radiohead's canon. That being said, it is awesome, and it will achieve its goal and draw in new fans.
Eater of Dreams: He still hasn't beaten the Broken intro. This one isn't even as good as Year Zero's march.
Copy of A: Say what you will, I've heard jousts of “it sounds like he went into Guitar Center and turned on everything,” and sure, that is true in a way, but that is what I love most about NIN. The big ass layered sound. Even the way that little ticky high hat will come back in just to accent great turns in lyric “doesn't sound like fun to me.” It's understatedly catchy and I love that about it. Everything on this album is either funky or understated. All of the bizarre synths and far-east sounding strings manipulated in this song get better with each listen. This song sounds like an acid safari into an inappropriate 1940s Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Came Back Haunted will eternally be one of those songs like Jay-Z's "On to the Next One" that is made infinitely better by the music video made for it. Yeah, I love the layered synth, but otherwise, the song is a little dull to me without the video.
Alright, Find My Way: the first song on this album I haven't been exposed to before. Dull thumps open it up, followed by some faraway native tribe ghost sounds and chimes for effect. Trent's singing sounds naked and exposed, even a little out of tune. A slow and pretty song with a sad piano and Trent's lamentation. Could've been on another volume of Ghosts.
All Time Low begins with jangly guitar and some sweet synth bass. Does it go anywhere? Yes. To amazingly fucking cool industrial-Sega-Genesis-funk. This song will catch some flack for sure for sounding like "The Big Come Down" pt. 2, which it does, but it's faster and catchier, and people outside of diehard NIN fans will flock to it. It's no "Closer," but a sexy-ass track.
Disappointed comes on with some handclap dancey shit and a little jungly bass line and stays that way. Maybe I'll like it later, but I don't really give a shit still by my second listen.
Everything has already gotten a lot of attention for sounding upbeat. It sounds like NIN made a pop-punk song, honestly. I don't mind it at all; I actually kinda love it. So what if it sounds a little happy — the chorus hits hard as shit, and the song rocks. Get over it. So Trent feels other emotions besides hate and depression, so what. The little bridge between the middle chorus even has a little guitar line that sounds like The Cure's "Just Like Heaven."
Satellite: Big booty bass handclap. Trent proves that his voice is just as good as Justin Timblerlake, not that anyone challenged him. This could be a 90s Prince song, like Get Offf — funky and sexy.
Various Methods of Escape sounds like an outtake from Mezzanine by Massive Attack. It could be the next House theme song, easy. Does its slow plodding build to something? A big tender “ooh” sing-along chorus, and some cool blending of bass and wonky synth. I don't hate it, but at the same time, the chorus could be in a shampoo commercial. Wait, never mind. When the chorus comes back at the end with live drums, I kind of love it.
Running starts by laying down a beat straight out of Thom Yorke's lexicon. Some weird bongos, then the mean ass guitar/synth breaks, and the whole mood changes. Are we about to get a fast song? Close. It's a wonky, weird one, but "March of the Pigs" it is not, although it certainly is interesting. I can hear a lot of the instrumentation he used in Ghosts coming into play. Then "Running" kind of just runs along until it stops.
I Would for You has a nice funky lil' beat. A big sinewy bass comes in on the second measure, and I am intrigued. It sounds like a dragon slowly waking up. I love the Theremin sound. Otherwise, the chorus reminds of me of Massive Attack or even Enya somehow. Another Trent lamentation. “If I could be somebody else...”
In Two fakes you out with a soft intro then kicks into another big funky beat based around dirty synths and evil sounds. Love it. Second favorite, easy. Decidedly cool and original territory. Good job, Trent! I genuinely wish that more of the album was like this song. Do I hear the ending synth from "Closer" going on near the end?
While I'm Still Here: More bare naked Trent voice, but cooler glitchy electronics under it. Whoa, really cool samples. Sounds like someone fucked with the sound of a plucked piano string. Really cool and detailed. Three fourths of the way through, turn it up and listen to the details. This fades into Black Noise, the final track of the album. There is the sound of Trent hyperventilating into the mic to the beat, some bizarre electronic sound that may be a modified trumpet, and some bass notes played so low that they are barely audible, plus God knows what else. Smoke a bowl and dive in, my friends.
NIN has gotten playful and decided to make a fucking weird album. I don't fault him for it at all, nay, I love it, I'm just not sure if it is uncomfortable territory for Trent — to sit in the dark shadow between Beck and Radiohead, or if it is just right where he should have been all along. Trent, don't stop making music buddy. I want to see you twiddling knobs until your grey beard obscures them, you wise old tender wizard, you. You will find a lot of new respect and fans with this album.
PS: Oh, and do a project with Ian Macaye. That would rule.