REVIEW: Nine Inch Nails – ‘Hesitation Marks’

ninhesitationmarks

Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Album: Hesitation Marks
Genre: Alternative rock, industrial, electronic rock
Label: Columbia Records

I am just a copy of a copy of a.”

What is Trent Reznor trying to sing about? Is he talking about pop music in general? Is he talking about the evolution of sound or film or media in general? Or is he talking about Nine Inch Nails?

Everything I say has come before assembled into something
I am never certain anymore
I am just a shadow of a shadow of a shadow.

You could call the music unintelligent if you want to, but it’s certainly self-aware. The second track on Nine Inch Nails’ return from hiatus and welcoming back into the realm of major label releases is a declaration that yes, he knows this is not breaking any new ground. Yes, he is doubtful. Yes, he knows he is just a shadow of his former self. He tries to scream purpose: “I am little pieces / pieces that were picked up on the way / invented with a purpose / a purpose that’s become quite clear today.”

With Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails have made their most mainstream, least groundbreaking release ever, surpassing 2005’s With Teeth as major label music that was designed from the onset to be a smash hit. Unlike With Teeth, though, there are no hits, no new ground being covered, no musical experimentation, and no bold moves or dark personal mantras. Hesitation Marks is the perfect title for this album: it wants to be catchy, perfect radio rock music, but because this band is not a pop artist at its core, the hesitation leads them to miss the target. Because everything done here is just a shadow of what they’ve done before, it is the stalest release in the NiN catalog.

It opens with “The Eater of Dreams,” a typical NiN ambient ditty that lasts less than a minute that moves swiftly into “Copy of A,” the single that sounds like every other Nine Inch Nails single you’ve ever heard before. Is it good? Absolutely. Perhaps that song best exemplifies this album: when it’s bad, it’s terrible, and when it’s good, it’s not great, but it’s almost undeniably enjoyable. “Copy of a” sounds like every NiN song you heard on MTV ten years ago or on the radio, but it isn’t as strong as “The Hand That Feeds,” “Every Day is Exactly the Same,” and certainly not on par with the genius singles from The Fragile, The Downward Spiral, or other preceding opuses. There’s only so many times you can hear bIII bVII i and still be convinced someone actually put any effort into writing the music. And yet, some of the songs are enjoyable; it’s just enjoyable in the mildest of ways.

“Came Back Haunted” is one of the worst songs on here, desperately shouting “look at me and my return!” It is a formulaic, forgettable song with nothing accomplished other than knowing that yes, you can write a song about your return and make it the first song heard upon your return. The song may as well have saved them a thousand dollars on a PR campaign (“How do we grab attention with the first song that leaks?” “We’ll come back… haunted!”) This leads into a foray of other forgettable songs that would be better off being the mediocre soundtracks to first person shooters than an album.

The only new territories ventured here are, essentially, writing melodies that focus on major intervals. If you don’t know what that means, it means some of these songs will sound (shocker) not dark or brooding. Conceptually, this opens up a whole new world of writing; there are only a handful of songs in the band’s catalog that really have this edge to it prior to this album, and with as many albums and EPs as they have, that’s a huge amount of potential. Unfortunately, the potential is wasted with terrible songwriting and abysmal hooks. These songs, the most creative on the albums, aren’t catchy, aren’t meaningful, and lack the musicianship that has always made this band stand the test of time. The best example of this is “Everything,” which sounds more like a song Pat Benatar would have written in 1986 as a filler album track than a song worth listening to twice, but another example is the fluff of “I Would For You.” By all means, some stand out songs still exist, like the oddly funky “All Time Low” or the enchanting “Various Methods of Escape,” but the majority of this meal is undercooked or a food you’ve ordered a thousand times before (and gotten better nine hundred of those times).

It should be said, however, some of the music is above average, just not great (or really, even good); on the other hand, what’s bad is just so terribly boring and lacking any sort of edge that it drags this album down. This album was started by writing two songs for a Greatest Hits collection – “Satellite” and “Everything” – and it feels as though the whole album was written to fill a contractual agreement. There’s a gorgeous EP in here somewhere – even if it lacks any killer singles – but surrounding a good body with layers and layers of fat does not make an attractive being. Self-awareness helps some artists succeed, but it brings this album down as it sounds like it was written for an insane light show rather than an enjoyable album. Trent can issueIt’s ten bucks or go fuck yourself” mantras all he wants, but that doesn’t redeem an empty experience.

Score: 5/10
Review by: Dan Bogosian (Twitter)

Dan Bogosian

I finished school with a music theory degree. Before I finished school, I was a janitor. You really should apologize to all the janitors you've ever had. You hurt them. Seriously. You did.

But, now that we've cleared that up and you called your high school janitor, know that I quit being a janitor to pursue writing about music. So here I am, and here you are, and hey how are you?
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Laszlo Panaflex

    “and it feels as though the whole album was written to fill a contractual agreement.”

    Except, Trent is with an entirely new record label…snarky cocksucker music critics.

  • Dan Bogosian

    Which is why I said it “feels” that way, and not that it “is” that way. Have a lovely evening.

  • Dan Bogosian

    It should also be pointed out the first two songs he wrote for this album were, in fact, written to fulfill a contractual agreement. http://www.spin.com/featured/trent-reznor-upward-spiral-nine-inch-nails-spin-cover-september-2013/

  • vader182

    But it does have a hit. A huge hit. Two million hits plus after the first week and a half after it hit the web. It’s also played constantly on the local alternative station here in Chicago, and it’s a safe bet this is the case around the country. You may not like the album, you might not find it catchy, but it’s a fact many do.

  • HaulixJames

    Nicely done.

  • hayesjam

    “There’s only so many times you can hear bIII bVII i and still be convinced someone actually put any effort into writing the music.” Thank god someone finally decided to say this in print.

  • gdupuis

    I am long-time hardcore NIN fan and, sadly, I just totally agree with your review. “Everything” sounds like Chris Cornell’s revenge against Trent… (hardcore fans knows what I’m talking about) and the rest of the album doesn’t have alot to offer. IMHO, Trent has lost after The Fragile what I liked the most about his albums : perfectionnism. So I don’t think it’s an issue of being on drugs or sober. I also agree that “All Time Low” and “Various Methods of Escape” are worth listening throught.

  • DA

    I completely agree with this review, this is exactly how I felt when I had the unfortunate experience of hearing this album.

  • Kris Grochowski

    I love the idiots who don’t understand this concept album and realize this is one of his best projects. Critics/fans of old Nails are a joke!

  • jspears

    I haven’t heard any music this intellectually stimulating since The
    Dark Side of the Moon. Clear your mind of what you think you know about NIN and just listen to the narrative. It’s dark, sonic and has a beat you can bug out to. I think it is a masterpiece and everyone should just listen to it and see if you feel the same as I do.

  • DA

    Sorry fella, this guy is capable of so much better than this and yet the fans are all lapping it up… Not my fault they can’t distinguish mediocre music when they hear it. If this is one of his “best projects” then he clearly needs to give up now.

  • RobLeslie

    I think everything is a wicked song. I love it. “I Survived Everything” it seems upbeat but so dark at the same time. I just enjoy it, don’t see the need to over analyze it.

  • Maxie

    ‘You could call the music unintelligent’

    If anything around here is unintelligent, it’s the reviewer, who btw, is by far the minority. The major music pubs are going apeshit for this record, and rightly so. Blows Yeezus out of the water.

  • Dan Bogosian

    I don’t recall there being a rule that “the majority is intelligent.” I would even recall the George Carlin joke: “think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are stupider than that.” What’s with comparing an alternative album to a hip hop album? If you’re going to outright insult my intelligence, it’d be ideal if you were constructively criticizing rather than saying something that could be paraphrased as “I disagree, so you’re dumb.”

  • B1l0

    Some people are stuck in the past…

  • Eray Özkural

    I’m an industrial rock musician and I’ve found this to be the absolutely worst, most pop-ish record he’s released. There is nothing new or exciting in it, it sounds bland, uninspired and un-musical, like a bad imitation of his previous self. He should divorce from that ugly and talentless woman right away. Obviously, he’s run out of money because of her and had to cook up an album in a matter of two weeks. It seems light-shows can’t save bad music.

    Well, I think he figured out that to sell records you don’t need to make good music anymore. But he’s lost his artistic integrity in the process and he sure is going to lose all his real fans like this…

    If it’s not industrial, rock or alternative, and sounds more like a generic pop record, well, there was no need to call it NIN. Just call it Trent’s Poop.

  • Eray Özkural

    Here we go again with the argument “if it sells many, it’s good”. It’s not.

  • vader182

    You’ve radically misunderstood my straightforward prose. I made no statement of quality, only correcting this factual inaccuracy in the review: “Unlike With Teeth, though, there are no hits, no new ground being covered, no musical experimentation, and no bold moves or dark personal mantras.”

    It has nothing to do with how much you do or don’t like the song, or album, to recognize it has a hit. It represents the astounding bias this reviewer has carried towards reviewing this album, and I say this having no ‘issue’ with many reviews far more negative than this one.

  • Dan Bogosian

    I think those statements are far too personal. There’s nothing wrong with being married and I don’t get the sense that she’s draining his money or anything. His love life has nothing to do with the quality of the album.

    But we do agree that this was, for the most part, Trent’s Poop. It was pop, like With Teeth, but it lacked the artistic integrity and killer singles of it. Just a fluffy, weaker release, all around.

  • Eray Özkural

    Maybe you have very different ideas about what constitutes a hit.

  • Giant Pink

    As a long time fan this album makes me feel bad for Mr. Reznor.

  • danny

    Hey bogosian,you’re way off base here..this album is very smart! Its up there with The Downward Spiral and The Fragile..

    “Lav mdig ere yev midked ge pokhes”

  • danny

    NIN is not indusrtial..

  • My jaw just dropped. It’s as if you haven’t listened to an album since 1973.

    EDIT: I haven’t even listened to the NIN record, I’m just blown away that nothing has stimulated this commenter in 40 years.

  • nekrololi

    Before I listened to the album I read reviews like this and thought to myself “Just another idiot who has a grudge against Trent”, then I actually heard the thing. The new album is quite embarrassing. It’s NIN gone top 40. Sounds like it was made for dance clubs and the disney channel. Trent has lost it ;_;