"Now I am no longer a child", the quote went, "I put away childish things." I remember with striking clarity an argument with an ex when we were 22, berating me for still having posters with musicians on my walls. Last month I turned 40. I still have posters of musicians on my walls, except now they are in frames. So many people look at the old records, and breathe a sense of relief that they are no longer that person. The issue there is denial : you are still that person, in the same way that once you are an alcoholic, you will always be an ex-alcoholic. You cannot pretend the past never existed.
Hesitation Marks, taking its title from the scars of failed suicide attempts, is perhaps the apt title : for even Reznor's self-imposed death sentence on Nine Inch Nails was merely a four year stay of execution, and the scars evidence, as such, of a desire to continue in some form. The anger and fury is less self-directed than before, more externally focused, but reflects a core part of many personalities : a sense of injustice at something not delivered, either personally or socially, a sense of energy directed into something. Sometimes we have to recognise that the answer is not a blind howl, but a focused sound. As a single entity, Reznor is much like his not-so-secret-hero Prince, - and an ethos also heard on the first Foo Fighters album where most of the instrumentation is played by one person - a bizarre, inaudible sense of an utter, telepathic lock with every other performer. Here, Reznor is utterly in cohesion with himself. It's a solid, hour long album, in the oldest sense of the world : a collection of songs that sit next to each other complimenting each other : there's no sense of any 'lesser' tracks, and few, it any, absolute standout numbers outside of the the first two songs released, in the hook-laden "Come Back Haunted" and the self-prophesising sense of been-here-before that permeates "Copy Of A"'s every moment.
Four years after the final Nine Inch Nails live shows, Trent Reznor has resurrected the band which is really a solo project : the risk is the band that cried wolf, and subsequently split, is back, and this time, in less than the normal amount of time it takes the band to produce a regular record - having held long five year interregnums in 1995-99 and 00-05, another four year gap between records is, well, business as normal - how many Kiss farewell tours have there been? How many times have The Cure toured for 'the last time'? Splitting up a band is career move, a way of gaining some necessary down time, a chance to fix broken relationships through distance, and then to return - hopefully invigorated - but sometimes exhausted, or lesser. In all ways, Nine Inch Nails 2009 "Wave Goodbye" tour felt like an end, and here, with a new record the 'band' return with the end of the end, the beginning of a new beginning.
"Hesitation Marks" is another Nine Inch Nails album : not (thankfully), a sprawlingly huge epic disaster of "The Fragile", but a concise hour. There's no sense of any progression, insomuch as it still sounds very obviously like Nine Inch Nails. "Come Back Haunted", the first release, is a coiled snake that, like the best of their material, suddenly and with no great surprise, explodes in an orgy of sound. But, like all of Reznor's work, builds on simple repetition, the echoed verse vocal, the looping riff that comes back with a slight twist at the end, the self-aware, negative lyric, and even ends with a direct quote on guitar from his biggest hit, "Closer". The album - 14 songs in total - moves to a conclusion with "Black Noise", sounding for all its efforts, like another great record that Reznor made 15 years ago that he's only just now decided to release.