Opener The Eater of Dreams is a slow building, electronic heart beat monitor intro to the most electronic album in NIN’s eight album discography.
“I am just an echo, of an echo, of an echo…”
Copy of A gives a good taste of what lies in store – it’s an incessantly catchy track, with nagging, buzzing synths laid over a tightly tuned Blue Monday’esque drum machine.
Came Back Haunted features dark synth-lines, and a great classic NIN guitar riff halfway through the song. But you already know this, as the song has been available for over a month now.
The presence of Alan Moulder on the production side is telling with the sound of this album. Moulder worked with Curve in the 90s, and there are some hints of the way Curve used dark electronics cut with brutal guitars on Hesitation Marks.
“Everywhere now reminding me… I am not who I used to be”
Whilst Hesitation Marks musically is a very different beast to the Nine Inch Nails of The Downward Spiral or The Fragile, lyrically its still visceral and although there are more synths than guitars, the music is still hard-hitting and atmospheric. The delivery may have changed, but there is no dumbing down or compromise on display here.
Find My Way is an early album favourite, with simple piano lines, Twin Peak’s guitar and a great Reznor vocal. Sometime’s less is more, and Find My Way is a very powerful song, different to anything I have heard from NIN before.
“Ghost’s of who we used to be. I can feel them come for me.”
All Time Low is driven by a very Talking Head’s like riff. I wonder if this is one of the tracks featuring Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham? I won’t know till I receive the cd on release day (this review is from the NIN website stream, so no album credits are available yet). A fairytale like synth motif bubbles away in the background as Reznor sings “We’re never gonna die, how did we get so high?”. A clever touch.
Disappointed will not leave you feeling so. Some lovely, subtle guitar playing in the background of the verses. One of the strengths of Hesitation Marks that is immediately apparent is that the tracks have layers that reveal themselves on repeated listening sessions. The last couple of minutes of Disappointed are a case in point – soaring guitars and keyboards, underpinned by nagging sequencers, drop quickly to reveal the lightly percussive melody and crisp drums. It’s like getting halfway through a really enjoyable meal and then bang, a new flavour hits your palate. And I do like a good meal!
Everything is almost NIN goes late 70s powerpop – NIN do The Knack! The heaviest and most uptempo track on the album, it’s short, sharp and to the point. It’s also the perfect length for a classic single, at 3.19.
Satellite and Various Methods of Escape have a mid-80s Peter Gabriel feel to the music (yes, I really did just write that), with the latter track having a very strong, addictive chorus that counteracts the world weary lyrics.
Another reference to the 1980s is the appearance of bassist Pino Palladino on the album. I can’t hear any Wherever I lay My Hat type basslines here, but his touring with The Who (or his Tears For Fears work) was probably more of a reference point for his inclusion by Reznor.
The outro to Running, if included on a previous NIN album, would be awash with heavy wall-of-sound guitars, whereas the 2013 Reznor has a singular guitar line, backed by scraping keys and insistent beats.
The scent of Bowie can also be found on Hesitation Marks. I Would for You would not have sounded out of place on Bowie’s Earthling (and we know Reznor loves I’m Afraid of Americans from that album).
In Two is another album highlight – with shades of the breakdown in March of the Pigs, though the rest of the song bears no resemblance to The Downward Spiral track. I think In Two may contain one of the Lindsey Buckingham appearances, it certainly sounds like his playing in the background as the song builds to it’s (very) abrupt climax.
While I’m Still Here brings the album full circle, back to the electronica of the opening salvo, although at a slower pace. I love the keyboard work in this track, and the sax riff at the end. Sax on a NIN album? Heresy. It seems as if the experience of the soundtrack work with Atticus Ross is being utilised to give the band more colours to choose from, which can only be a positive thing.
“Yesterday I found out the world was ending.”
Album closer Black Noise is an instrumental continuation of the previous track, and presumably is a play-on-words on white noise, with the album ending in an explosion of sound.
Hesitation Marks has the potential to become my favourite NIN album. It lacks the rage of early albums, but what is the point of repeating what’s gone before? There is so much depth revealed on repeated listening, and I think over time this will surpass Year Zero for me. One of the best releases of 2013, I certainly think so.
Order Hesitation Marks (Deluxe Edition) from Amazon UK