On the basis of Hesitation Marks, the first Nine Inch Nails album since 2008, I conclude that Trent Reznor has decided melody might actually be slightly more important than noise, a decision possibly based on the prodigious success of his soundtrack work with Atticus Ross. Nothing here actually hurts my ears on the level of, say, the crescendo near the end of “Hurt.” And let’s face it, “Various Methods of Escape” is the definitive NIN song title, in which Reznor sounds just as desiccated as he did around The Downward Spiral, accompanied by this-side-of-glitch backing and some genuinely creepy guitar work by Adrian Belew. “I cannot trust myself / I gotta let go,” indeed.
The track that reminds me most of “classic” NIN, oddly, is “Copy of A,” which spills out of the 50-second opening thrash “The Eater of Dreams” with a pounding Depeche-Mode-at-78-rpm rhythm pattern and a reminder that “Everything I have said has come before.”
The least typical track here has to be “Everything,” for lack of a better description “Pop Industrial.” It’s downright upbeat: “I survived everything,” Reznor sings at the beginning. But the repetitions of “I am home/I am free” and such toward the end seem less and less convincing with every bar, until the whole thing grinds to a halt. Maybe this is Reznor’s attempt to deal with the unfamiliar concept of life not sucking.
And if that isn’t, surely this is: Hesitation Marks came out on Columbia Records. Columbia, fercrissake. This is not exactly like Anthony Bourdain showing up at Arby’s, but it’s close.
(Review copy ordered from NIN.com at the standard price. Different editions may have different cover art.)