When Hesitation Marks was announced for an early September release it was highly anticipated by a hell of a lot of people, myself included. It’s been five years since The Slip, NIN’s last studio release and in the meantime Trent Reznor has been busy with How To Destroy Angels as well as some big movie soundtracks, so I wondered how much that would shape this latest release. Surprisingly the answer is not a lot.
Hesitation Marks opens with two stunning tracks, “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted”; the former fast and punchy and the latter bearing echoes from further back in Reznor’s discography, most notably near the end of the song when it clearly nods to “Closer” from 1994’s seminal The Downward Spiral. The album stylistically harks back to that breakthrough record throughout yet is continually fresh, creative and exciting. What impresses me is despite Reznor’s well documented use and exploration of digital, the music often feels organic in its heartbeat like pulses and an occasionally viscous feel to the music, especially in the aforementioned “Came Back Haunted”.
Lyrically it is an introspective and retrospective album. In a superb interview with SPIN magazine Reznor talks about how he has grown into a much better person than the man he was when working on albums such as the The Fragile or the deeply personal With Teeth. It’s a sentiment frequently echoed in the lyrics as well as some new vocal exploration. “All Time Low” often features a higher pitched vocal for example, backed by himself, all layered over what feels oddly almost like a disco beat played at the wrong speed.
With the first five tracks (excluding intro) clocking in at over 5 minutes each, on first listen the album does feel like it begins to drag as you approach the end of “Disappointed”, but then it hits you with its biggest surprise with a one-two punch combo. “Everything” is easily the closest NIN have ever come to a straight out pop/rock song (even with its overtly distorted guitar), and is quickly followed by “Satellite”, a track which if it featured Pharrell Williams on vocal could easily rocket its way up the Radio 1 charts. Personally I’m glad Mr. Williams didn’t receive a call and so it still stays firmly in the NIN bracket, but it does make me wonder what Trent Reznor could do for the popular music market if he felt so inclined.
The latter half of the record continues in a slightly more traditional vein being distinctly and familiarly a Nine Inch Nails record, yet always has a foot firmly in uncharted territory embracing more elements of modern house and electronica than I’d ever have expected. Fear not, for it never goes ‘full retard’ and use dubstep; there’s no wub-wub here. If you’ve heard HTDA’s Welcome Oblivion you’ll hear a little of that in there too but not so much as to feel that it influenced the shape of Hesitation Marks. If I have one complaint it’s perhaps an overuse of the build up to a sudden stop ending, but again that’s arguably a signature part of NIN so I can’t complain too much.
The deluxe edition features three remixes which don’t really bring anything particularly valuable to the regular versions so if that’s the only real difference between Deluxe and Standard editions you’re probably better off saving a couple of quid.