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).
on 2 September 2013
There's no denying how much of a musical genius Trent Reznor is. But that's the problem, alot is expected out of this guy, probably more so than modern musicians (aside from Radiohead).
It took a awhile for single Came Back Haunted to grow on me, but eventually I came round to loving it.
The album itself starts off very strong, the first 3 proper tracks leading Reznor into a potentially great new direction which echoes Radiohead and even Massive Attack era Mezzanine (the ballad Find My Way) as well as his own signature.
But then it starts to dip with 'All Time Low'.
At first I loved the track for it being so different from what Reznor has done before, but after awhile it's just so incredibly cheesy and grating, trying desperately to recapture the magic of Closer along with Bowie's Fame and Fashion.
But it simply doesn't work. It's almost like he's trying too hard to capture the raunchiness of Closer.
There are some great little tunes on the album, such as the brilliantly upbeat 'Everything', which sounds like a collaboration of Bernard Sumner (New Order) on guitar, and I Would for You.
Most are slow burning mood pieces, which somehow don't sit so well along side Reznor's most commercial pop music yet. Due to this, the album lacks two huge crucial ingredients that Reznor is normally so great at crafting- direction and character.
I often think Reznor is at his best when doing concept albums, The Downward Spiral is easily his greatest and most remembered album to date by hardcore fans. But it just seems like retreads of past albums (Satellite, although still good, sounds like it was left off Year Zero) to an overload of influence with Disappointed (is that Thom Yorke's vocals on the verse?) as well as B side filler (the repetitive Running).
It ends up as being 'an album which has good songs' rather than being 'a great album with great songs'. And not really a 'front to back' album in which each song follows up the next so effortlessly in sequence. It's also the first album Trent has made where the tracks don't segue into the next (there's a pause, then another track kicks in). It just feels so uneven.
But for me, the biggest problem seems to be Atticus Ross, Trent's right hand man and co-producer. Unlike his work with him on Year Zero, which had a 'narrative', Reznor's musical direction seems somewhat lost, and Ross's presence is overly dominant (give Trent back his guitar Atticus!).
I'm not attacking Reznor's 'new direction', which many have had a problem with since With Teeth, because there doesn't really seem to be much of a new direction at all. Just a mish mash of songs, some great, some good, some terribly average, with loads of beats and great production.
Which is the main flaw with this album, unlike previous Nine Inch Nail's records, it doesn't have it's own 'character'. If this were a Radiohead album (I only mention this due to Reznor's fondness of the band, as well as both being perfectionists of creating albums that work so well in sequential form), it would be the equivalent of 'Hail to the Thief'.
It seems doubtful that this will become a classic in the future of Nine Inch Nails back catalogue, and may in fact (apart from some remix albums) be his most forgettable.
Excellent production as always though, but that's to be expected. There's just very little on here which knocks you backwards and blows you away (Copy of A is the only one that comes close), and Trent is more than capable of creating all time classics with songs that tug at the heart strings (although Find my Way comes fairly close but misses the mark), which this album is also sorely lacking. It seems like a fairly cold and calculated effort for the might Rez.
Copy of A
Came Back Haunted
Find My Way
I Would for You
Various Methods of Escape
The rest range from being to good to simply average.
Let the hate commence...
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!