2013 is proving to be an amazing year for the return of artists who first rose to fame in previous decades. For electronic tinged music, this is especially so. Earlier this year we saw the unexpected return of David Bowie, with a strong album that brought to mind his “Berlin Trilogy” musically and visually (that cropped cover of the Heroes album is a conversation starter). The Pet Shop Boys followed suit a few months later by delivering their strongest album in years, a hard-hitting, beat heavy masterpiece. It only figures that with the 70’s and 80’s represented this year, the final part of the trilogy would be filled with a band who really took off in the 90’s, Nine Inch Nails.
From 1989 until 2008 Trent Reznor and his accomplices in Nine Inch Nails released music that covered the gamut in industrial & electronic music. Radio ready anthems, instrumental mini masterpieces of emotion, and abrasive anger – it all spewed forth from the mind of Trent Reznor. Reznor’s vision remained consistent even as fads faded in and out of hipster culture – leading to middling reviews at times. No matter, the body of work stands on its own. Even my parents sing along to Nine Inch Nails, by way of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” – something I never would have expected to see. After about 20 years of the non-stop rigors of touring and releasing albums, Trent Reznor announced that the band was going on hiatus after touring in 2009. Note that NIN (especially in the early years) sometimes took 5 years between albums; it is a surprise to have a copy of a new Nine Inch Nails record in 2013. Even more surprising – it is one of the best records of the band’s career.
What did Trent Reznor do in his time away? Go for a holiday in the sun somewhere? Of course not, he only put together the Oscar award-winning soundtrack to The Social Network, orchestrated another soundtrack for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (both collaborations with Atticus Ross), and formed a new band, How To Destroy Angels, with his wife Mariqueen Maandig. A busy schedule to be sure, and certainly not the kind of hiatus I’d take if I ever took one (you’d find me sipping on coffee while curled up with a book and headphones on). The nice part about Trent’s “hiatus” is that everything he’s been dabbling in over the last 5 years has made its way into the new Nine Inch Nails record, Hesitation Marks. It is an album that recalls the most famous NIN record, The Downward Spiral, while also nodding towards the cinematic qualities that Reznor has steadily incorporated in his records over the years.
I’m Just Trying to Find My Way…
The album starts off with a short instrumental before segueing into “Copy of A” which is carried along by deeply foreboding synths and a heavy beat that recalls some of the bands 90’s work. Trent’s voice hasn’t aged a bit, I felt like a depressed 16 year old all over again listening to this. Except that I’m 36.
“Came Back Haunted” keeps the same vibe with a deeper angst entering the vocals. A chorus to die for, as the music swells in electronic white noise behind Trent’s vocals. Alien possession? Not sure what Trent is on about in his lyrics, with words like this “Everywhere now reminding me / I am not who I used to be”.
“All Time Low” is screaming out for radio play, a distant cousin to the earlier controversial NIN hit, “Closer”. No one can marry dark electronic music to pop anthems the way Nine Inch Nails can. Sing along with these words “Hey! Everything is not okay / We lost too much along the way”.
“Satellite” hasn’t been getting mentioned in most of the articles I’ve read about the album, and I’m not sure why – it is my favorite song on the record. Pulsating beat, sinister vocals and lyrics that just hit you. Abrasive guitar with a repetitive piano refrain, this track has everything you’ve come to love from Nine Inch Nails. A song about Domestic spying? Not sure, really. Judge for yourself “Yes we can, yes we did / Eliminate, despair / Better watch, what you think / What was that, you said?”
“In Two” comes near the end of the album and begins life as a straight ahead electronic rocker (probably the kind that Reznor can compose in his sleep). It is an enjoyable romp, but segues into something else entirely halfway through. Desperation in Reznor’s voice, recalling the coda of “Hurt”, the song toned down to just a swirling guitar, beat, and Reznor saying “I just don’t know anymore” in various shades of affectation. Truly, a touching moment.
If you are a long time Nine Inch Nails fan, you already have the record. If you are a casual fan but haven’t really kept up with the band – now’s the time to get back on board. A stunning record that gets better with each listen. I think I’ll go drive around suburbia in my soccer mom car and listen to this record as loud as possible. No matter what our age is, the concerns of youth are still there – just muddled up by the realities of life. A record like this finds the fire inside and makes it alive again. Thanks, Trent.
Verdict: They Came Back Inspired
For Fans of: Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, Ministry, Depeche Mode
- The Eater of Dreams
- Copy of A
- Came Back Haunted
- Find My Way
- All Time Low
- Various Methods of Escape
- I Would For You
- In Two
- While I’m Still Here
- Black Noise