Nine Inch Nails have had plenty of time and space to regroup. New "Hesitation Marks" is the industrial rockers' first in five years, and first since taking time off from touring in as many moons. It's a fresh lineup and, in the time in-between, Trent Reznor has won and Oscar, launched How To Destroy Angels with his wife and longtime collaborator Atticus Ross and, apparently, made amends with a major labels in time to launch a proper campaign to push a significant and solid radio single.
The result from that pause is a mellower Reznor with big standalone songs, rare rays of sunshine and a run of quixotically forgettable tracks toward “Hesitation Marks’” end.
“Hesitation Marks,” NIN’s eighth full-length, eagerly rushes in with the Reznor we’ve known and loved, minus all the yelling. Perfectly dystopic “Copy of A” and single “Came Back Haunted” are quite the pair, kicking off this 14-track set after murmuring intro “The Eater of Dreams.” Reznor intimately croons on piano-dripping “Find My Way” and red-lit “All Time Low,” his chilling voice allowing in a few “baby” fillers along the way.
But talk about “Disappointed,” which is the title to a meandering glitch-dirge segueing into a sequence of songs that will try the patience of the average Nine Inch Nails fan. The glittering pop-punk sounds of “Everything” completely disorients the dark-dweller with all that light; “Satellite” has all the soul of a car commercial, with follow-up “Various Methods of Escape” providing no obvious means of escaping this HTDA outtake until three-quarters in.
“Running” and closer “While I’m Still Here”/”Black Noise” at least provide some inspired beats, invoking the good ol’ days of trip-hop without gagging on sickly sweet melodies, as on the aforementioned. It’s not that Reznor can’t carry these oddballs; his voice is as strong as ever but is, again, without as much untethered aggression to match all the white noise and his typically fatalistic lyrics. The set could use a good trim or some stronger tent-poles in its latter half. There’s a little too much control.