Trent Reznor, the brainchild behind Nine Inch Nails, always seems to know how to perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the times with each successive record he releases. After disbanding the project four years ago, Reznor took time to work on composing soundtrack scores, and won himself an Oscar for The Social Network in the process. After completing his first album with side project group How to Destroy Angels, Reznor announced the return of Nine Inch Nails with a new album: Hesitation Marks. It's been noted that Reznor drew influence from his 1994 album The Downward Spiral, and that's certainly evident in some parts of the record, but the majority of the instrumentation can actually be traced back to his soundtrack work.
The album relies heavily on electronic soundscapes and drum machines, but this makes the record more prevalent today in the world of technology, and it also enhances the songs in which guitar is used.
The theme throughout Hesitation Marks seems to be the search for personal identity and individuality in a world in which people are increasingly connected by technology. It's an extremely personal cry for help when the rest of the world seems to be conforming and apathetic.
This is most evident in the two most effective and powerful parts of the album: the beginning and the end. “Copy of A” hits that notion of personal identity head on, with Reznor declaring, “I am just a copy of a copy of a copy.” The pulsing electronics build up beautifully, and Reznor sings with a quiet intensity.
The next track “Came Back Haunted” is one of the tracks that harkens back to earlier Nails records, with a dark drone and blistering guitar solo.
“Find My Way” is also a bit of a throwback but for an entirely different reason. It's a beautiful track, with a gorgeous piano loop and Reznor's pleading, ghostlike vocals.
The next four or five songs are definitely worth a listen, but none really jump out. “Everything” is a neat little jaunt into pop territory and definitely an atypical outing. “Satellite” and “Various Methods of Escape” are two songs that relatively succeed at blending the old guitar crunch of earlier records with new electronic beats.
When you hit the last three songs, the lyrics and music hit a new high. “I Would for You” is an absolutely heartbreaking, poignant track about changing who you are for someone else in any circumstance. The chorus is incredible, and this is one of the tracks that really takes that old industrial influence and brings it into the modern day.
“In Two” is the highlight of the album, without a doubt. It's the hardest track on the record, and Reznor brings back his old snarl for one more ride. The guitar meshes with the electronics and creates this great texture of static that drives the song forward, along with the crushing drumbeats.
“While I'm Still Here” begins to close the record with a soft, contemplative look at love, life and death; soft droning synths paint a bleak picture, but one that must be shown.
How do you define yourself? Has your life been worth living, and do you feel at peace with person you were, are and will become? These are the questions Hesitation Marks asks us, and it does so with bite and emotion. Reznor may never bring Nine Inch Nails back to the angst-driven records of the 90s, but that's OK because he's created an album with a sound and message that perfectly fit the time we live in now. It certainly is not a perfect record, but it accomplishes its task and then some.