Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks

by Alexander Segall Rating:7 Release Date:2013-09-02

Since With Teeth, the 2005 kicking off of Trent Reznor's busy period, Atticus Ross has been a key figure in the NIN family, finally getting formal billing on the Social Network OST. It's been eight years of collaboration, and looking back, you know exactly what you're going to get from a Nine Inch Nails album nowadays. This retreating into himself is implicitly acknowledged on the single, 'Copy of A' - everything may have come before, but that doesn't make any art less valid, only, perhaps, less relevant. What you now get is Reznor's songs, vocals and angst on top of an increasingly electronic, machine-led music which leans less towards the shlock-metal/nu-metal influencing sound of the 90s, and more towards the Oscar-winning brilliance of their work on Fincher's cinematic masterpiece.

In some respects, this is a distillation of The Slip, focusing that anger and angst into ever more shiny, sleek pieces, where his bile and hatred is more internalised, and more vague, than that which inspired 'Closer', 'Hurt', or 'Head Like a Hole'. The first singles, the aforementioned 'Copy of A' and 'Came Back Haunted', are identikit late NIN songs - you could have dropped these onto anything from With Teeth onward, excepting Ghosts, and not known the difference.

Much of the album is true to the blueprint worked on over nearly a decade of work - it's where Reznor and Ross go leftfield that you find something truly interesting. The latest single, 'Everything', is remarkable. Poppy, almost punky, and very quick, fun and vibrant, it jarred on first listen, but grows into the sequencing of the disc. Similarly, its immediate follow-up, 'Satellite' is a funky, danceable number which flirts with R&B. Lyrically, Reznor mines the same vein he's done for years, and to be frank, if you're not a teenager, the angst does get a little tiresome after a while. Perhaps this is the reason that 'Disappointed' has the vocals mixed so low for most of the song, in an implicit admission that really, now, it's all about the music.

The latter half of the album, unlike some of the more recent work, doesn't slide into an ambient haze, but actually picks up the more Krautrock-ish beats and industrial tropes of earlier work. Indeed, 'I Would For You' is a veritable maelstrom of layers before washing out into the plangent piano that most encapsulates 'Hand Covers Bruise', the Zuckerberg leitmotif.

If you're a fan, this is a slow evolution towards a new and exciting place; for the casual listener, it's nothing much different than before. No-one does this sort of thing better. Unfortunately for Reznor, no-one else is really doing this anymore.

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