I was lucky enough to catch them live at a small Miami Beach club in late 1990. Trent Reznor was young and gawky and full of absolute rage. I’ll never forget him hanging upside down from the drum cage while singing “Something I Can Never Have”. Musically speaking, there’s nothing quite like the memory of having seen a band just on the cusp of greatness. The band knows it. You know it. Everyone packed into the tiny club knew it. The world just needed to know. They soon would. Trent Reznor would go on to guide NIN as the quintessential alternative band of the last 20 years.
“Hesitation Marks” is the latest creation in the NIN catalogue. The album opens brilliantly with “The Eater of Dreams”. I equate the first track to an audio palette cleanser. The noises hit you in stereo from all different directions. Your mind wanders away from the blur of everyday conformity around you and focuses on the sounds developing on your speakers. Without hesitation, track two, “Copy of a” comes right at you. I love this song. I love the groove, the lyrics, everything. I deliberately avoided reading any of the interviews of Trent Reznor or other reviews before hearing the album myself. No preconceived notions of what the album should sound like or what the lyrics meant. I wanted a clean slate. “Copy of a” is absolutely brilliant. With Reznor and his angst, the song could be about nearly anything. With that said, I took it as the perpetual struggle a musician has balancing that line between creating something groundbreaking while still holding onto the roots that made them great. It also, for me, quite simply defines the parameters we have as songwriters with respect to absolute originality. The song starts “I am just a copy of a copy, everything I say has come before.” Blunt and spot on. The burden of originality is a great one as an artist. Only those who are truly honest will admit it’s all been done before in a larger form. It’s the details that’ll make your latest work distinctly great.
“Came Back Haunted” is next in the order of play. It’s the first single off of “Hesitation Marks” and really set the tone for me as to how the rest of the album would sound; electronic, trademark Reznor angle, with a touch of an upbeat, dare I say, pop sound. Did I really say that? Yes I did. Reznor has a new vocal approach on some of these songs that takes a bit of getting used to. However, when it finally resonates with your ears, you’re going to like it.
“Find My Way” is a hauntingly epic song that reminds of early NIN work such “Something I Can Never Have” or “Hurt”. I can’t get enough of that style. Very long car drives have had those songs set on repeat.
“Everything” is an example of the before mentioned upbeat sound that explores a distinct singing style for Reznor. Though it has the NIN edge to it, making it slightly rough around the edges, I wouldn’t be surprised if the song caught traction on non-alternative genre stations. Recently, bands like Imagine Dragons have been very successful in crossing the line from alternative to traditionally commercial outlets. It makes me wonder if “Everything”’s 3:20 song length (uncharacteristically short for NIN) was a deliberate attempt to conform the song to pseudo pop guidelines. We’ll see...
“Various Methods of Escape” is a chilling song with a perfectly timed build. I can’t wait to hear it live as it’ll translate well to that vibe. The same can be said for the athem-esque “I Would For You”. That song builds and ends in a way that very much reminds me “Closer”; one of my favorite NIN songs.
The album ends the way it started with an instrumental called “Black Noise”. Like a digital version of Marshall amps blurting out feedback to end a show, “Black Noise” does so with resounding effect. When it’s over, it’s over. And all I want to do now is listen to the whole album over again.
Nine Inch Nails: "Hesitation Marks"
I think I’ve gone out and purchased only a couple of CD’s in the last 5 years. Downloading on iTunes brings out the instant gratification part of us that’s synonymous with the times in which we live. We’ve been conditioned to enjoy our music in a way that no longer requires a trip to the local record store. It no longer involves thumbing through the album insert, reading every detail and realizing how far off you were deciphering lyrics after reading them in the liner. When I was a kid, I bought records, then cassettes, and finally moved onto the CD. I welcomed the Napster to iPod era with open arms. No complaints here about the depth of music easily found online. Alas, every once in a while, I crave the experience of driving to the store, finding a new CD and playing it on my way home. This is what I did this morning with NIN’s latest release, Hesitation Marks.
Let it be known, I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. Always have been. As a trouble making 17 year old, I’d sneak into South Florida nights clubs with a “borrowed” ID. The alternative genre as we now know it was starting to flourish in this scene. NIN was right at the tip of the musical spearhead in terms of coolness at the time. I can remember being at a club one Sunday night that played four NIN songs in the course of a single hour. “Down In It” alone was played over three times that evening. That was the early 1990’s. That was “Pretty Hate Machine”. That was the birth of Nine Inch Nails.
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