New NIN album creates unintended downward spiral

After composing film scores for movies such as “The Social Network,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and working on a post-industrial side project with his wife in How to Destroy Angels, Trent Reznor returns with “Hesitation Marks,” the first Nine Inch Nails album in five years.

To fully understand where “Hesitation Marks” came from, one must listen to the debut album of Reznor’s How to Destroy Angels, “Welcome to Oblivion.” Graced with soft textures and female vocals, that album was similar to a watered down version of NIN, largely absent of guitars and not as dark as some of Reznor’s earlier work.

“Hesitation Marks” is instrumentally similar to that. Minimalistic electronic beats grace most of the songs with glitch tracks and distant guitars, and it sounds…colorful. The album is full of color and has more in common with Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto” than, say, Reznor’s ultimate 1994 masterpiece, “The Downward Spiral.” Whereas that album had dirty, industrial beats, this album is laden with bright, clean electronic sounds, and an overall upbeat atmosphere.

And it works… to a certain extent.

Songs like “All Time Low,” “Find my Way,” and “Copy of A,” despite questionable names, manage to utilize the newfound color in Reznor’s usually colorless world to the fullest extent, with interesting guitar parts, badass industrial beats, and interesting instrumental work, which sounds like what My Bloody Valentine would sound like if they were industrial.

And then there are songs like the horrible “Everything,” which is led by a clean guitar riff and Reznor straining his voice to an uncomfortable level—imagine Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, and you’ll get the idea of how bad it sounds. The entire last half of the album sounds uninspired, and lyrically it’s something you’d expect from a fifth grade love poem.

Ultimately, the album drags on too long, and the last section of the album is mostly forgettable and uninteresting, similar to any Mars Volta song post-“Frances the Mute.” The lyrics are repetitive, and the songs sound the same. If this were a seven song mini-album or a long EP, it would be fantastic, as the whole first half of the album is beautiful with well crafted songs and interesting instrumental work, although Reznor’s lyrics are often a drag.

In an ironic way, this album is the true downward spiral, a heavily front-loaded album.  In the end it fails due to Reznor’s self-inflicted wounds of elementary rhyming and a serious lack of inspiration. Yes, Trent, you gave us your empire of dirt, and it hurts.

– Day Gudmundsson