Nine Inch Nails – [Album]

Saturday, 07 September 2013

Hesitation Marks is Nine Inch Nails' first CD in five years and, on it, Trent Reznor doesn't sound fully convinced that making it was the right move, either for himself or his audience. The very first words on the CD are "I am just a copy of a copy of a copy/ everything I say has been said before" ("Copy of A"). Why bother? he seems to be asking, “I'm just going to give you more of the same.” On "Disappointed" he gets explicit on the point when he asks, "Can I ask you something?/ What did you expect?" The very title of the song indicates the answer he anticipates.

But, despite these lyrics (and the title of the album), Reznor does not sound one bit hesitant in his performance. This is standard NIN; aggressive industrial rock to the core. Reznor sings with conviction – even as his very words question what he's doing. His musical vision is so solid here, so complete, that he can use both Adrian Belew and Lindsey Buckingham as guitarists, and you can't tell them apart. After the often sparse electronica of his soundtrack work, it must have felt like a homecoming to return to this sound. But is that just going backwards?

Reznor does add some new touches here. There are several songs, such as "Disappointed," which incorporate the stuttering beats of his electronica work. And there are some (dare I say it?) pop music moments here. "Copy of A" is a very catchy tune, and "Everything" almost sounds like a Cure outtake. (Yes, I know the Cure are only pop by comparison.)

As the album goes on, Reznor starts singing about his need to escape. "Why do you make it so hard/ for me to get away?" ("Various Methods of Escape"). "I'm running out of places I can hide" ("Running"). Is this another message to his fans? He can't escape their demands on him? He felt forced to return to the NIN sound by their insistence?

The questions surrounding “why” Reznor is doing wht he's doing on Hesitation Marks loom unanswered through the album's run-time, but there is another, darker theme which runs through the album as well.  It first arises in "Came Back Haunted," the third track. This song is most easily read as a tale of addiction and rehab. There, listeners get the impression that, while Reznor may have kicked his addictions, but they still haunt him. There are still ghosts he must combat. Perhaps only the aggression of NIN can purge them. If that's the case, at this point it is interesting to note that NIN's 2008 album ghosts I-IV is all spare electronica and Eno-esque soundscapes. Was it a depiction of those demons? An inadequate attempt to get rid of them? These questions are perfect additions to those others.

In that light, songs like "Various Methods of Escape" and "Running" are much more likely to be about addiction than his fans. They certainly read well as commentary on the difficulties of ever escaping such, but can't fame be an addiction as well? Is Reznor addicted to his fame? Did he produce a classic NIN album because he needs the adulation it would bring him, or because that was the only way to express his internal torment these days? And what about the fans? Are they addicted as well? After attempting to detox them by going in very different musical directions, is this not another fix of the hard stuff?

When looked upon in the above manner, Hesitation Marks becomes one big metaphor and, through that metaphor, an extended mediation on the nature of addiction, as well as the addictive nature of the artist/audience relationship. Reznor needs to return to NIN because only it can give him the musical rush he needs to purge his emotions. But he also needs his fans, and they need him. It's all so co-dependent, one deep circle of need and release. Although certainly a healthier one than if he had continued to feed his real addictions.

You may have noticed my own hesitancy throughout this review. Lots of "perhaps" and "but" and question marks. I don't in any way claim to know what's going on in Trent Reznor's mind. This is all just my interpretation of what I hear. But I don't think that makes it any less valid. Art is about interaction. Once an artist puts a piece of work out there, it is open to whatever interpretation the listener finds in it. I don't believe "But that's not what I meant!" is a valid response from the artist. Just be glad your audience found something meaningful to themselves in it. But that's an aspect of the artist/audience relationship for another column someday….


Nine Inch NailsHesitation Marks – "Copy Of A" – [mp3]


Hesitation Marks
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .


Nine Inch Nails – [Album]

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

For a musician that has, in times and confines passed, been known to take as many as five years to follow up a record, that Trent Reznor has released four albums of material (three of all-new songs and one remix disc) in only fifteen months doesn`t just say that the singer thinks he has something to prove, it screams it. Now freed from the confines of a major label, Reznor has elected to use his newest effort as the thing that every musician on a major has claimed their output is anyway – an advertisement to sell concert tickets – and made The Slip available as a free download via Nine Inch Nails` web site.

The thing of it is, given the care put into the band`s previous releases, it`s difficult to say that freedom and volume of output is something that is of remarkable benefit to Nine Inch Nails.

Okay, the brass tacks of The Slip go about like this: anyone that has been a fan of Nine Inch Nails for a while knows that as meticulously produced and constructed as any of the albums tend to be, there are invariably a couple of songs that fade into the background and bridge momentum between singles. This isn’t a bad thing because they keep the album’s energy up and, in a live context, they tend to whip the fans on the floor into a frothing frenzy. These are the tracks (like “Happiness In Slavery,” “March Of The Pigs,” “Sin,” “Perfect Drug” and “Starfuckers, Inc.”) that actually make for a magical live experience more than the staple singles that everyone hopes they’ll hear.

They’re also the sort of songs that the first side of The Slip is comprised of.

The record hits the ground running with “!,000,000” and maintains a breakneck pace through “Letting You,” the hard-hitting “Discipline” and the vintage death disco strut of “Echoplex” before letting the vibe slip slowly with the attenuated boogie and beats of “Head Down.”

At that point, things start to get noticeably more methodical in pacing and delivery and also looser insofar as the instrumentation and mixes being a little airier and more haphazard. After the first half, “Corona Radiata” backs “Lights In The Sky” both in tempo and approach with a piano-reliant delivery that forces texture to take the fore and relies heavily on it in order to get the tracks over. The problem with that is, without hook-heavy tracks before them to offer contrast, these two songs offer the impression that the album is simply winding down early.

The production gets even more lax in “The Four Of Us Are Dying” too and by the time “Demon Seed” sputters to a close and Reznor is left muttering to himself that he’s reaching the point, one can’t help but wonder which point he’s reaching for.

This all sounds hyper-critical and maybe it is but, after the career that Nine Inch Nails has had, the idea of an intrinsically flawed record appearing from them that also doesn’t have at least one requisite hit is just so alien. For better or worse, The Slip simply does not have a landmark, staple, signature song. Needless to say, this is not the typical album from Nine Inch Nails, but it isn’t (not in the strictest sense anyway) bad. It will translate incredibly well in a live setting between the blockbuster hits, but you might not know the names of these songs right off the top of your head. The Slip is a different approach for Nine Inch Nails to take and it takes some getting used to.


Download The Slip for free here.

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