Four years after a brief retirement, Nine Inch Nails return with Hesitation Marks. This is an album that is a reflection of all the previous releases, from the sounds used, down to the artwork. But I wouldn’t call it “a return to form”, because it is all new. I would call it “finally going in the right direction”. Of course, I believe in artistic integrity and allowing the artist do whatever they want, as long as it’s good. I can finally say, this album is top notch Nine Inch Nails from beginning to end.
I’ve been listening to Nine Inch Nails since Broken (1992), although I picked it up almost a year later. The songs on that EP really struck a chord with me. It introduced keyboards in such a different light, that it made me seek out other bands from TVT Records which in turn introduced me to Wax Trax! Records. Bringing attention to other bands that were loud, and guitar driven but with a just as equal noise, melodies, and rhythms produced by machines. That tape was on constant repeat in my house and on my walkman. My brother and I can play the first three songs on guitar and drums, straight through. It’s been that important to our discography.
In middle school, that’s when I discovered Pretty Hate Machine from my friend Diana. She’s introduced me to a lot of different bands throughout the years. I didn’t know of this album, so it was quite a surprise to hear the evolution from one aggressive EP to a softer (only in comparison), darker synth pop album. Of course, that was the era of making rhythmic ambient dance music without it being too happy or too disposable. So those two tapes were now on constant repeat, and then The Downward Spiral (1994) came out and this, once again, changed everything. Aggression, sensitivity, ambiance, pressure… everything’s thrown in the mix, every emotion thrown onto each track. This is the album that naturally progressed and rightfully so was logical in the direction they were going. If you thought Broken and Pretty Hate Machine was on repeat enough, my parents probably cringe when they hear a note from The Downward Spiral.
Fast forward, 19 years later… Hesitation Marks is released and although there have been five albums in between this and The Downward Spiral, this is finally the album that I have been waiting for. Not saying that the albums in between, The Fragile (1999), With Teeth (2005), Year Zero (2007), Ghosts I – IV & The Slip (2008), aren’t good. They’re just difficult to get into, and in certain instances the songs sound better live than they do in the recording. So listening to Hesitation Marks really impressed me from the first track to the last and it lead to me believe that these songs are going to translate nicely into a live set. And I think that’s pretty important, especially if you’ve dedicated a lot of time and work into a set of songs. That translation has to be smooth and attainable, but judging by how effortless this album sounds, I think that it’s going to be really easy to do.
I would count this album as a minimalist approach to The Downward Spiral. If you liked that album, transitioning to this one is going to be easy. The synths are more present and lead the songs along with repetitive drums. The guitars add to the mix but are mostly used to boost the melodies provided by the keyboards. Should I even dare say it, most songs could be considered dance songs! A throw back to the hay day of old school TVT/Wax Trax! Records releases where these tough, scary guys were releasing dance music! Perfect examples are Copy of A, Satellite, and Running. Strange noises being made and organized into electronic dance music, REAL EDM. There’s one songa that I find to be weak, but add a break to the album, Everything (which reminds me of a twisted U2 song).
Artwork is credited to Russell Mills who did the artwork for The Downward Spiral era. Accord to Mills, it’s supposed to be a comfortable reminder while introducing something new. Hesitation Marks embodies that concept completely. The paintings and images are too familiar, even down to the font type. So to compare it to The Downward Spiral is fair but not entirely true because it is not a repeat, it is a different aspect. The only thing that has changed is the Nine Inch Nails logo, which is cut down to a small chunk. Which it has been altered before, starting with The Fragile. I think the artwork is great because it’s a signature of a time period that really represented Nine Inch Nails, but the idea isn’t completely in nostalgia which is a great way of sneaking in a few punches.
As always, Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor with a couple of his friends in an ever changing line up on each release. This album plays host to blues, rock, and R’n’B bassist Pino Palladino, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, King Crimson’s Adrian Belew (guitars, backing vocals), Eugene Goreshter from the band Autolux (synthesizers, strings, violin, bass), Alessandro Cortini touring member of Nine Inch Nails since 2004 (synthesizers), multi instrumentalist Ilan Rubin (live drums), and Joshua Eustis from Telefon Tel Aviv (backing vocals). Although they don’t play on each song, they contribute enough to make it sound like a full on band performance. Having both Buckingham and Belew contribute was probably one of Reznor’s best moves. Lindsay Buckingham adds a sensitive, quiet touch while Adrian Belew adds a low, rumbling atmospheric vibe, in addition to Trent’s own touch on production and sound design.
Honestly speaking, this is probably the best Nine Inch Nails release in a very long time. It’s able to speak to old fans, current fans, and will probably pick up new fans along its way. If you miss old industrial dance music, I think this album will ease your worries. Hopefully, it will reignite that spark that has been missing in the industrial genre! It’s not a gothic rock foray into strange and alienating moods, which by now you should be old enough to be embarrassed about and have hopefully moved on from. But it is a tight, tension filled proposal to move and feel.
PAIR THIS ALBUM WITH
Nine North Wines – Seven Sinners Petite Sirah [Lodi, Napa Valley, California 2010]
We’re celebrating the return of Nine Inch Nails with this fantastic bottle of Petite Sirah. According to the Nine North Wines website, the 2010 series is a reintroduction to their Petite Sirah line. Plus it’s total coincidence that Nine is in both names… I swear! This bottle of wine is beyond lush and flavorful. Blackberry, blueberry and spice, which is typical for a Petite Sirah, cover the overall flavor. It’s composed of 96% Petite Sirah and 4% Zinfandel so be ready for a big bold taste, and a medium to full body.
If you’re a fan of Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels, this bottle will be the next step for you. The three of which are in its own category of medium/mild wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being full or soft wines. Enjoyable with or without food, but quite flexible with all types so it’s well rounded for any situations. I’d probably pair this with churrasco, any type of meat that is nicely done and juicy.
Vinyl & Vino rating: 5 out of 5
TOP FAVORITE TRACKS
Copy of A
Various Methods of Escape
Nine Inch Nails