on 23 January 2014
Reznor has received more reviews than he could possibly ever need. However I can hardly resist writing one, too, especially after watching all those live NIN performances, which he's published on his superb vevo channel. The current one appears to be some tour and I am extremely happy it'll be visiting London. Talking about tours, it wasn't that long ago that we went to that NIN "goodbye" one -and even got the goodbye T-shirt - and that he went off to meet Justin Timberlake, bag an Oscar, make us sleep with ghosts, etc. The naïve like me thought that NIN were gone forever, while the more seasoned, committed, fans were certain Trent'd be back with another NIN record.
And back he is, "couldn't stay away". Took me completely by surprise, too: The nauseating video of "Came back haunted" exploded on VEVO one day last June, if I remember correctly, to be watched by almost a million of people in the first 24 hours (myself included; braved the nauseating feeling of watching it 10 times in one day magnificently, I might add) and to instantly become a favourite NIN song- and a lesson on how to make a video clip of huge impact, with rather little money. Nevertheless, when "Hesitation Marks" was released (September?), I neglected to buy it for a few months. It all turned out for the best because, having bought it at the very end of 2013, it kick-started my 2014 in a big way and, as it often happens with any NIN album, once this cd was inserted in the player all other music faded, ceased resonating and became redundant for a few weeks, until Trent's new music had well and truly been learnt, the feelings sunk in, and the lyrics greedily devoured. This album is as sexy as ever. So, once again, I found myself wondering just how many babies might have been conceived in steamy love sessions that have been initiated with some wine and NIN songs such as "Sin", "We're in this together", "Vessel", "Terrible Lie" and (personal sensual favourite) "Me, I'm not"- to list but a few of the more (ahem!) innocuous ones. Needless to say, if you were born after 1991 and your parents have suspiciously many NIN cds on their racks, you just might owe your very existence to this man. A new song from the current album that is sultry and seductive is superb "I would for you"- and it is my favourite on this album. What a song to approach someone you really love/desire with, claiming you'd even change the person you are for them! (And as St Valentine's is already beckoning, it's fit for purpose).
Regarding the album as a whole, I do not predict it becoming my favourite NIN album and dethroning "With teeth" and "Year Zero" from their shared throne. "H. Marks" is yet another very personal Trent album, but it is his albums offering a bit of social context along with the deeply personal one, that have always appealed to me the most. Also, if I had to go for a "personal" album as my NIN favourite, then that would undoubtedly be "The Fragile" (left and right). However, "Hesitation Marks" still is a five (or 6 or 7 stars) album, just for containing fabulous songs such as "while I'm still here", to name one. It might not be off-the- charts unrateable, like most other NIN offerings, but it still is pretty remarkable, especially when compared to the atrocious standards of music released today in general. And 7-star Trent is better than no Trent at all, anyway; not to mention that for me, it is early listening days yet.
The initial listen was a tad unsettling: because of chirpy "Everything", my fellow listeners and I creased our foreheads in momentary worry, thinking he came back happy instead of haunted. Now, this won't do; risking the danger of sounding like the evil "they" of "We're in this together", I must say: someone keep this man unhappy, please! Otherwise, who'll write us songs for our collective heartaches as concise, succinct and to the point as "The great below", "Sin" or favourite "Only", (a song about his troubles with "the business" -his words, not mine- but with lyrics that can easily fit any kind of bad and/or abusive relationship situation, be it with a partner, a parent or a boss). "Everything" had us truly worried he might have finally found "happiness in slavery" (and if you are a parent you know that nobody can spell "slavery," happy or otherwise, as well as a couple of kids running around your house). Luckily, after "Everything", he didn't keep us worried for long, hastily descending down a spiral of delicious angst, expressed by a successive onslaught of tortured songs "various methods of escape", "running", "I would for you" and "in two", then finishing the whole thing off with the beautifully calm growing old/love/lullaby song "while I'm still here," which forms a unit with instrumental "black noise." These songs all make up for a magnificent second half -and a glorious ending- to this very mature album. I love them all- taken in one by one, or taken in all together: the effect is orgasmic. And every time I watch "in two" live from the NIN vevo channel, that effect is doubled!
It transpires that I have found the great songs to be in abundance in this album; I certainly seem to have found more songs to love here, than most of the other reviewers. Perhaps it is because, although I have been following Reznor since the "Pretty Hate Machine", I became more of a fan of his during the "grown up" stage of his career, than I ever was pre-2000 (with the exception of the scorching, apocalyptic "Broken"). He is so clearly one of the soundtracks of one's adulthood. Moreover, I find myself always wanting to pledge my support to him, because of his professional and artistic ethos, which are both outstanding: Never betraying himself or his fans, he has given them music for free through his website, to reward their expenses and faithful efforts of support for him during the decades, and he keeps publishing outstanding live performances on his vevo channel, something that must ultimately be advantageous to him as well as to his insatiable fans. A professionally recorded live performance will always be better than an amateur one, so in this way he can maintain quality control of the output.
Most importantly, he has vouched to never "tarnish" his songs by allowing them to be used in commercials. He expressed his views on this in an old interview, by criticising one of his own music heroes, who Reznor said "hurt Reznor's feelings" when he allowed a much loved song to be used in a software company commercial. So, it'd seem that the lyrics for "Head like a hole" are a rule that Reznor lives by. One hopes he'll never change his mind and vilify that. Most artists do lend their songs to commercials, of course, but it always comes as a shock to us fans. Also, it is always harder to swallow, when a musician that is a symbol (and who, as such, means so much to so many people) goes so fully and blatantly corporate. Reznor is a symbol and we could never conceive an adequate reason for any corporate "whorification" of his songs; it's great that he seems to feel the same and so far stands by it.
One mild criticism, if I may: Reznor seems to have come back a tad deluded. Although all his lyrics are versatile and mean a lot of things, apparently he thinks he's a copy of other people now and made song "copy of A" about this. Truthful self-reflection- or does he want us to stroke his ego and say "no, you're not a copy of anything"? Should it be the latter, I'd be glad to oblige the man who has handheld our souls through so many heart aches, old and new, and who has so well expressed in his lyrics our deepest pathos. Of course, after so many centuries of writers, thinkers and artists, that he should occasionally feel like "a copy" is rather unavoidable. No matter what one writes, it will inevitably have been written by someone, somewhere, before. However, it is not WHAT you write or say, but HOW you say it. And it is not the ideas, but what you do with them that counts. And if there ever was an original artist, a prototype, then Reznor is certainly it. Can't wait to see him live again. Welcome back, Sir!