Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Nine Inch Nails

Hesitation Marks (2013)

Columbia Records

Given how long it used to take Trent Reznor to produce a new Nine Inch Nails album (at least up until With Teeth), perhaps NIN's five years out of the spotlight can be treated less like a breakup and more like a hiatus (hell, that's what the Org's patriarch, Aubin Paul, called it back in 2009). And really, that breakup was more a step away from live performances anyway; Reznor stated at the time of NIN's farewell shows that he would still use the name. He just needed to knock out an Oscar and start a band with his wife first.

Reznor seems to be making a winking a reference to NIN's short retirement with his new album, Hesitation Marks. Here's a record filled with lyrics about coming back and repeating cycles. All of this has happened before; all of this will happen again.

Except now we have examples of what Reznor can do separated from his brand name. Do you like NIN's more haunting experimental fare, like Ghosts? Check out the soundtracks Reznor released under his own name. How about the droning NIN deep cuts? Give a gander to How to Destroy Angels. Outside of name recognition, why does Reznor need NIN?

Evidently, it's so he can write hits. Hesitation Marks contains some of the catchiest Reznor compositions since, well, the last NIN album, The Slip. "Copy of A" and "Came Back Haunted" are dual cannons of dance-gasms and big ol' choruses. "Disappointed" has drums that sound like got-damn hand claps. Some folks jokingly called "Everything" NIN's attempt at pop-punk when it streamed last month, and they were actually kind of right. And I gotta give props to "All Time Low," a grooving Berlin Bowie banger with an off-kilter guitar hook. Hesitation Marks is not a heavy record, but it sure is a danceable one.

Within NIN's context, the two records Hesitation Marks most resembles are Pretty Hate Machine (tons of dance tracks despite all that darkness) and With Teeth (it's a comeback record too). This proves to be the record's drawback as well. Like With Teeth, Hesitation Marks is frontloaded with the more crowd pleasing material. While nothing here is necessarily disappointing, a tight 45-minute cut would have really upped the pop factor. As is, the album has an ebb/flow quality that wears out after a while. Reznor has pursued new styles since NIN's hiatus. A return to the moniker means a return to his safety zone.

Still, it's good to have NIN back. The band's summer shows prove Reznor can still rule crowds, and this record boasts enough hits to add to that canon. It doesn't have the sprawling dystopian sci-fi concepts of Year Zero or the challenging distribution method of The Slip. Rather, Hesitation Marks is a solid, if typical sampling of NIN's sound presented through traditional means. It's pretty good.