Most helpful positive review
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Like all NIN, it took a few listens. And it's GOOD.
on 5 September 2013
As I put on Hesitation Marks, I thought that this album would have a lot to live up to in terms of originality. I for one felt that Reznor was on an incredible creative run of brilliant ideas and vision with Year Zero, Ghosts and The Slip. Sure, those albums were not comparable to The Downward Spiral or The Fragile in terms of emotional intensity, but then nor were they supposed to be. So I half-expected this album to be a continuation of innovating the format and conceptuality rather than an epic journey exploring the depths of suicidal feelings. And I was extremely excited to hear that Reznor was "completely rethinking" NIN had been working with people like Adrian Belew.
But in actual fact, it seems that the focus of Hesitation Marks is not about world-changing sonic experimentation and technological smart-assery. Musically, there are some surprises. Reznor career-long obvious Prince influence has never been more apparent than it is in the playful falsetto of "All Time Low" or the funk of "Satellite". In a somewhat Talking Heads' Remain in Light fashion, "Copy of A" is built up gradually in layers in a way which seems more rhythmically driven than ever before. And the major-scale verse melody of "Everything" certainly comes as a shock, but after a few listens somehow falls into the category of more conventional loud NIN moments.
Much has been made of the alleged 'sparseness' of this album in contrast with Reznor's usual painstaking tapestries of sound. But for much of the album this is done in such a way which perhaps less noticeable to outsiders, as layers of all-sorts seem to quickly pile on in almost every song. The main noticeable differences are the lack of any truly face-pounding explosive rockers, and the absence of Reznor screaming hard enough to lose his voice. There is an electronic, but ever so slightly ambient quality to the production which certainly gives the album a unique and endearing feel. In that respect it actually sounds more "band"-oriented than cinematic.
But ultimately the album's strength lie in its emotional undertones. It had to be the case - on first listen I actually found myself somewhat underwhelmed by the second half, which ostensibly seemed like an array of generic NIN guitar chugging and "I"s and "you"s. I assumed that after a few listens the cerebral "arc" would begin to show itself. and thankfully, it did. Reznor's motivation here is in looking back on who he was, where he was at, and what he was capable of, circa The Downward Spiral. He even confirmed that this was why he used artist Rusell Mills once again for the cover art. And as a mature, married, father of two and general normal chap, Reznor is now using music to express the harrowing depths of a mid-life crisis.
Joke - it's cooler than that. He is looking back on himself as a fomerly addictive personality prone to extreme mental swings and wondering if he is in any way at all, in spite of the struggles he went through, envious of his former "freer" self. There are intense emotions here, but they are intense explorations of uncertainty rather than despair.
It isn't a very deep plunge into turmoil like The Downward Spiral, and it isn't uber cool or uber conceptual like Year Zero. And nor it can it be expected to deliver the merits of those two periods of NIN. What it does deliver is a new level of reflectiveness, and will demand a deeper understand of that word from any NIN fan loyal enough to go the distance with it. It is, as anyone should expect, a new NIN, an long may it continue (for 4 or so years).