Following a long hiatus, the new album from Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks, is a surprisingly softer affair that at first might have been expected. Punctuated throughout with 80s beats and waves of synthesiser ambience, Hesitation Marks is less a sequel – as many may have hoped – to The Downward Spiral and more a sort of Pretty Hate Machine 2.0.
Not that you’d know that from album opener The Eater of Dreams, a haunting instrumental that segues effortlessly into Copy of A and previously revealed track, Came Back Haunted – both of which have something of The Perfect Drug to temper the influence of Erasure and Depeche Mode.
There is a note of introspection in Copy of A, yet despite which the rage at the revelation of such inward facing contemplation never presents itself in the same way as in previous Nine Inch Nails material – something that could be said of Hesitation Marks as a whole. Whilst the famous sampled guitar returns in Came Back Haunted, there is no echo of the piano riffs, only the soft sea of synthesisers attuned to a different era.
As the song moves into Find My Way, another slice of ambience this time echoing Trent Reznor‘s work on the soundtrack for David Lynch‘s Lost Highway, it begins to become clear that this record seems to be heavily weighted in favour of a calmer, gentler interpretation of Reznor’s influences, a decision that makes the record somehow feel less like Nine Inch Nails than previous releases from Reznor’s arguably more significant – and more recent – band, How to Destroy Angels.
By the team the Primal Scream dance-funk of All Time Low rolls around, any hope for a return to the rage and aggression of those records which cemented Reznor as one of the key poster boys for adolescent alienation in the ’90s are long since gone.
All Time Low outstays its welcome, an overly long and self-indulgent ‘jam session’ that seems to have found itself onto the near midway point of the record.
Such disappointment, all 6 minutes and 18 seconds of it, gives way to further referencing of Pretty Hate Machine as well as further sonic meandering with the aptly titled Disappointed, a track which is contrasted immediately by the indie guitar homage of Everything; the wistful Smashing Pumpkinsopening, the anthem of Curve guitars and for a moment even though everything is far from okay, there is the memory of another band, another era.
But it’s not Nine Inch Nails.
Satellite follows after, a bland Nitzer Ebb homage that again dredges up the ghost of Pretty Hate Machine but fails to do it justice.
Various Methods of Escape is a similarly bland affair before the slow building into a moment of inspired Eraser-like promise that instead goes in a completely different direction and comes across as stadium rock, a love letter to Muse, to Radiohead, to U2 even.
The final half of the album follows in short succession; Running – which does little to assure the listener of anything but how sorrowful it is to make do without those haunting pianos of previous albums – and I Would For You – the closest thing we have to a reunion with the narrator of Ringfinger fromPretty Hate Machine – wrap things up nicely before In Two, While I’m Still Here and Black Noise drone from one to the other and the sound falls finally silent.
There follows a moment or two in which the listener must reflect on what he or she has heard.
I, for my sins, found the resolve to order the How to Destroy Angels release I had not yet picked up.
Make of that what you will.
An inspired but ultimately flawed attempt, Hesitation Marks will please some yet displease many more.