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Nine Inch Nails' 'Hesitation Marks': What the Critics Are Saying

NIN Album Cover Art Split  - S 2013
Trent Reznor performs at Lollapalooza

The band's first new album in five years is out Tuesday, Sept. 3.

Trent Reznor is back at it with Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails' first new offering since 2008, out Tuesday, Sept. 3.

The Columbia-released album is also the group's first since the 48-year-old Reznor evolved into an Academy Award-winning film composer, wed musician Mariqueen Maandig and became a father to two young boys. His personal metamorphosis is evident on the album's 14 tracks, which many critics believe to be significantly more lighthearted than his past efforts.

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That's not to say that NIN's signature darkness isn't prevalent in Hesitation Marks. Critics have met the album with generally positive reviews, describing the compilation as "intriguing" and "one of [Reznor's] best."

Below, read what a sampling of critics are saying about Hesitation Marks.

Louis Pattison of NME notes that Hesitation Marks has "one eye on the past," as evidenced by its sleeve by The Downward Spiral artist Russell Mills, but that the new sounds is of a "cleaner, smoother Nine Inch Nails, one that delights in complexities of rhythm more than caustic blasts of rage." 

Pattison also revels in the album's vocal harmonies ("No, really," he writes), attesting that "it's the mark of a Nine Inch Nails far more concerned with being straightforward and direct, peeling away the gutsy ambience and cutting right to the heart of the matter."

Writes David Fricke of Rolling Stone: "Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Pretty Hate Machine, his debut as the founding singer-composer and main instrumentalist in Nine Inch Nails. But Hesitation Marks is an immediate reason to light the black candles. Reznor's first NIN album in five years, it is one of his best, combining the textural exploration on the 1999 double CD The Fragile, and the tighter fury of his 1994 master blast, The Downward Spiral. There is blood here: Hesitation Marks refers to the preliminary wounds made during a suicide attempt. There is deliverance, too. You can dance to much of this terror, all the way to the brink and back."

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Matthew Kemp of the Associated Press, acknowledging the difference in tone from Reznor's previous works, writes that the album "often resembles a ship trying to break free from its moorings." 

"Once the final rope snaps, Reznor promises to deliver one hell of a trip -- but, until then, longtime fans of Nine Inch Nails will be relieved to find that underneath the album's occasionally bright, brash surface there's still a heart of darkness beating strong and steady."

Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times, however, appreciates Reznor's newfound lightness, but believes that the vocals could use a bit of work.  

"Reznor would do well to open up the windows and let in some sunlight and fresh air more often. He long ago proved himself a master of musical dynamics. If only he'd pay equal care to the voice at the center of it," he writes.

The Washington Post's Alison Stewart praises Reznor's ability to grow in the industry.

Hesitation Marks serves as a great example of how a legacy rock star can grow older: Keep your defining characteristics and marry them to enough new ideas so as not to sound like a nostalgia act -- but not so many that you sound as if you are chasing trends," she writes. "The album is good enough to sidestep any questions sparked by Reznor’s return, such as: What does an industrial act represent in an electronic world preoccupied by dubstep and celebrity DJs? And if Reznor is no longer wrist-slashingly miserable and just sort of generally upset, does he even exist?

"The album lacks the dark lyrical heart of, say, The Downward Spiral (which it often resembles). But Reznor, now 48 and married with two young sons, still mines the same old resentments, demons and gripes, to almost the same lacerating effect," she writes.

Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune comments on Reznor's move from "digital do-it-yourself pioneer" to major label artist.

"With his recent soundtrack and independently released work, he provided an excellent example of how an artist could age gracefully instead of turning into a caricature, constantly rehashing the hits of his youth," he writes. "Now that he’s presumably a calmer, more centered individual with a family and a cushy major-label deal to push product, he struggles with the notion of how to move forward on a more mainstream platform. Hesitation Marks (Columbia) is aptly titled. It’s an album laced with questions, anxiety and self-doubt. It feels less like a statement from a major artist than a sidestep."

Pitchfork's Stuart Berman makes an anatomical comparison for the album's strongest tracks.

"The best songs here follow a similar process of gradually fleshing out a skeleton," he notes. "From the fidgety funk of 'Satellite' to the disquieting drive of 'Disappointed,' where wondrous, Indian-inspired string swirls -- a la the Beatles’ 'Within You, Without You' -- cut through the song’s claustrophobic clap-track. And even when the threadbare presentation casts a harsh light on the odd underwritten lyric ('Hey!/ Everything is not/ Okay!'), Reznor introduces new melodic changes to push a song in unexpected new directions: Just when you think 'All Time Low' can’t get any closer to 'Closer,' the song detours into a kaleidoscopic coda that introduces a brief flash of radiant color to Nine Inch Nails’ typically grim and grimy terrain."