Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks – review

(Columbia)

There are two reasons that Trent Reznor, the 48-year-old backbone of Nine Inch Nails, is worshipped. First, there is his group's second album, 1994's The Downward Spiral, which remains the ultimate soundtrack for every angry teenager needing music with which to piss off their parents. Reznor has said that, when recording it, he had "an unending bottomless pit of rage and self-loathing inside me". As such, he became a hero for every kid who hated "the system".

The band's calling card was Closer, arguably their biggest song to date. Blunt and heavy with menace, it begins: "You let me violate you, you let me desecrate you", before Reznor snarls that unignorable refrain, the one full of frisson for everyone who sang along: "I want to fuck you like an animal."

NIN lyrics have always been crude, but then Reznor is also capable of writing a song as indelible as Hurt. It took Johnny Cash's careworn baritone to cast that track as timeless ballad rather than emo whine, but the song showed that Reznor was not just some rage-head noisemaker: he was, and is, more subtle a writer and musician than the band's shorthand description as "industrial rock" suggests.

The second reason Reznor is venerated as a cultural icon is down to plain endurance. He has overcome cocaine and alcohol addiction, been namechecked by Time magazine as one of its 25 "most influential Americans" and in 2011 landed an Academy award, winning best original score for his soundtrack to The Social Network.

Now, 25 years after founding the band, he's also a married father of two. Domestic circumstances might seem irrelevant to the kind of music anyone makes, but when your entire modus operandi has been about annoying parents, becoming one yourself is pertinent. This record sounds exactly like a negotiation between those two Reznor modes: angst-belter and sophisticate; the rage-oaf and the artist.

Hesitation Marks is the first Nine Inch Nails album since 2008's The Slip, which was released online free accompanied by Reznor's message: "This one's on me." This one, however, is on Columbia – a backsliding of sorts, since Reznor vowed in 2007 to release material independently. That mellowing and compromise is echoed in the sound: the squalling guitars have been refined a little and the band sound more minimal and electronic than ever.

Fans will be familiar with a couple of tracks already, both of which are surprising. Copy of A, released last month, possesses a burbling, itchy synth line, while more perplexing still is its follow-up, the hearty college rock of Everything. Reznor's voice, however, hasn't changed, veering between hard man of rawk growl and needling adolescent whine.

The musician is famously exacting when it comes to sound and, predictably, the album is impeccably produced. What's shocking, though, is that at moments it sounds – whisper it – delicate.

Contributor

Hermione Hoby

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks – review
NIN's Trent Reznor ditches the industrial onslaught of his old days in favour of a lighter electro-pop sound, but some darkness remains, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

29, Aug, 2013 @9:31 PM

Article image
Nine Inch Nails – review

Techno-goth Trent Reznor prowled like Predator but stayed remarkably human in NIN's warm-up for Reading and Leeds, writes Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont

21, Aug, 2013 @1:04 PM

Jane's Addiction/Nine Inch Nails | Manchester Arena

Manchester Arena Flashback to 1991 as the two alt-rock giants reaffirm their brutal power, with Trent Reznor bidding farewell to touring, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

15, Jul, 2009 @10:05 PM

Article image
Nine Inch Nails to stop touring

Trent Reznor's industrial rock juggernauts are to stop trucking around the world after their final monster-sized dates next year

Sean Michaels

10, Dec, 2008 @10:42 AM

Article image
Nine Inch Nails: Bad Witch review – an inventive, aggressive return
(Caroline)

Phil Mongredien

24, Jun, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Guitarist Adrian Belew leaves Nine Inch Nails
Sean Michaels: The King Crimson guitarist says his stint in the band 'was not working': he leaves seven weeks before the band are to tour

Sean Michaels

10, Jun, 2013 @10:33 AM

Article image
Nine Inch Nails review – ferocious, saw-toothed gothic wonders
Trent Reznor unleashes super-fast tracks from the new album, a heartfelt Bowie tribute and a nostalgic smattering of the hits

Kate Hutchinson

25, Jun, 2018 @10:57 AM

Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks – album stream

Be among the first to hear Trent Reznor's new album, and let us know what you make of it

Guardian music

28, Aug, 2013 @11:31 AM

Article image
Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor denies split
The frontman of the industrial-rock juggernauts says he will continue to release music as Nine Inch Nails after the band plays their 'last ever' live shows

Sean Michaels

15, Jul, 2009 @9:33 AM

Article image
Trent Reznor to 'focus on Nine Inch Nails'
After winning an Oscar for The Social Network soundtrack, Reznor plans to bring his industrial metal band out of retirement

Sean Michaels

08, Mar, 2011 @4:18 PM