Trent Reznor, the man solely behind Nine Inch Nails, has released his latest album, “Hesitation Marks,” which refers to the faint lines of uncertainty before a suicide.
The title is misleaading. It’s as dark as one might expect, but there’s something communicatively unique about this work that sets it apart.
An autobiographical narrative comes into focus. With the first song, “In Two,” he self-consciously discusses his path of re-signing with a major label – a decision that at worst will cost him a portion of his fanbase and at best will revamp the NIN name into a financial powerhouse.
In “Everything,” the grotesquely upbeat oddity that has made long-term followers cringe, Reznor sings, “Wave goodbye/Wish me well/I’ve become something else.” The now-sober father of two may not be chin-deep in a puddle of pessimism, but he maintains his criticism of an industrial music whose aim is to challenge the very notion of pop culture.
The music, unlike the lyrics, teases an experimental twang: quivering synths and sandpaper scratches, with climactic rises of instrumentation. Overlaying that is the grungy rock NIN’s famous for – growls of electric guitars, airplane-like cymbal crashes and formulaic beats. The texture’s paltry and explosive, ambient and energetic, underfed while still asomehow surviving. And of course, the majority of the songs are in the traditional common time of pop tunes.
Regardless of Reznor’s commercial placement, this album is one of NIN’s best, and should continue to thrive throughout the year. “Hesitation Marks” very well might signify new blood for Nine Inch Nails.
Ben Rader can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.