Reznor cautiously finds happiness with ‘Hesitation Marks’

For the CDTOctober 18, 2013 

Nine Inch Nails released a new studio album, “Hesitation Marks,” last month. Since then, the name-calling in blog comment sections has increased exponentially over a number of questions: “Why is this album so upbeat and danceable? Is Trent Reznor no longer angry now that he’s a sober family man pushing 50 with an attractive wife and an Academy Award? What’s sincere angst vs. angst as a selling point? Why does this remix of ‘All Time Low’ feature Todd Rundgren?”

I don’t have the time of day to pick apart the brain of one of the most acclaimed auteurs in alternative rock, who will bring his explosive Tension 2013 Tour to the Bryce Jordan Center on Oct. 19. Reznor has always and will continue to make the music he wishes to make, be it loud or soft, combative or passive, dissonant or pleasing. Each Nine Inch Nails album is different enough to stand as its own entity.

So, I’ll enjoy “Hesitation Marks” for what it is — a fairly decent electro-rock record. It is far from a pop album. Tried and true Trent themes of self loathing, anti-conformity, and uncertainty of the future are present — but the loud guitars, distorted hollering, and unending sense of despair are dialed back considerably.

Reznor takes a minimal approach to creating and texturing the songs’ atmospheres, and chooses to accentuate the programmed percussion and rhythm elements of the tracks. Synthesized dance music is a cornerstone of the industrial genre, and underneath the mosh pit stuff, Nine Inch Nails have always been a group you can move your hips to.

“Hesitation Marks” serves up strutting electro-house (“Satellite,”) stuttering glitch syncopation (“While I’m Still Here”) and bare-bones dubstep (“I Would For You”). There are nods to his “Pretty Hate Machine” roots, as well as ’80s synth-pop, with the bizarrely joyous “Everything” bearing a drum track similar to Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out.”

Not everything sticks. Fans yearning for that classic Nine Inch Nails bark and bite may find this effort a bit castrated. A few of the tracks meander too long, and Rundgren does indeed coo over a needless remix of the song “All Time Low.”

“Hesitation Marks” may take a while to settle with NIN fans of any age or temperament. Regardless of whether or not old age has mellowed Reznor, he continues to exhibit musical depth, strong craftsmanship, and a desire to take risks. Best not to fret over why this album sounds a bit different from his earlier releases, and add it to the playlist for your next Halloween party.

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