Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

30 08 2013

Opener The Eater of Dreams is a slow building, electronic heart beat monitor intro to the most electronic album in NIN’s eight album discography.

“I am just an echo, of an echo, of an echo…”

Nine Inch Nails "Hesitation Marks"

Copy of A gives a good taste of what lies in store – it’s an incessantly catchy track, with nagging, buzzing synths laid over a tightly tuned Blue Monday’esque drum machine.

Came Back Haunted features dark synth-lines, and a great classic NIN guitar riff halfway through the song. But you already know this, as the song has been available for over a month now.

The presence of Alan Moulder on the production side is telling with the sound of this album. Moulder  worked with Curve in the 90s, and there are some hints of the way Curve used dark electronics cut with brutal guitars on Hesitation Marks.

“Everywhere now reminding me… I am not who I used to be”

Whilst Hesitation Marks musically is a very different beast to the Nine Inch Nails of The Downward Spiral or The Fragile, lyrically its still visceral and although there are more synths than guitars, the music is still hard-hitting and atmospheric. The delivery may have changed, but there is no dumbing down or compromise on display here.

Find My Way is an early album favourite, with simple piano lines, Twin Peak’s guitar and a great Reznor vocal. Sometime’s less is more, and Find My Way is a very powerful song, different to anything I have heard from NIN before.

“Ghost’s of who we used to be. I can feel them come for me.”

All Time Low is driven by a very Talking Head’s like riff. I wonder if this is one of the tracks featuring Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham? I won’t know till I receive the cd on release day (this review is from the NIN website stream, so no album credits are available yet). A fairytale like synth motif bubbles away in the background as Reznor sings “We’re never gonna die, how did we get so high?”. A clever touch.

Disappointed will not leave you feeling so. Some lovely, subtle guitar playing in the background of the verses. One of the strengths of Hesitation Marks that is immediately apparent is that the tracks have layers that reveal themselves on repeated listening sessions. The last couple of minutes of Disappointed are a case in point – soaring guitars and keyboards, underpinned by nagging sequencers, drop quickly to reveal the lightly percussive melody and crisp drums. It’s like getting halfway through a really enjoyable meal and then bang, a new flavour hits your palate. And I do like a good meal!

Everything is almost NIN goes late 70s powerpop – NIN do The Knack! The heaviest and most uptempo track on the album, it’s short, sharp and to the point. It’s also the perfect length for a classic single, at 3.19.

Copyright Nine Inch Nails

Satellite and Various Methods of Escape have a mid-80s Peter Gabriel feel to the music (yes, I really did just write that), with the latter track having a very strong, addictive chorus that counteracts the world weary lyrics.

Another reference to the 1980s is the appearance of bassist Pino Palladino on the album. I can’t hear any Wherever I lay My Hat type basslines here, but his touring with The Who (or his Tears For Fears work) was probably more of a reference point for his inclusion by Reznor.

The outro to Running, if included on a previous NIN album, would be awash with heavy wall-of-sound guitars, whereas the 2013 Reznor has a singular guitar line, backed by scraping keys and insistent beats.

The scent of Bowie can also be found on Hesitation Marks. I Would for You would not have sounded out of place on Bowie’s Earthling (and we know Reznor loves I’m Afraid of Americans from that album).

In Two is another album highlight – with shades of the breakdown in March of the Pigs, though the rest of the song bears no resemblance to The Downward Spiral track. I think In Two may contain one of the Lindsey Buckingham appearances, it certainly sounds like his playing in the background as the song builds to it’s (very) abrupt climax.

While I’m Still Here brings the album full circle, back to the electronica of the opening salvo, although at a slower pace. I love the keyboard work in this track, and the sax riff at the end. Sax on a NIN album? Heresy. It seems as if the experience of the soundtrack work with Atticus Ross is being utilised to give the band more colours to choose from, which can only be a positive thing.

“Yesterday I found out the world was ending.”

Album closer Black Noise is an instrumental continuation of the previous track, and presumably is a play-on-words on white noise, with the album ending in an explosion of sound.

Hesitation Marks has the potential to become my favourite NIN album. It lacks the rage of early albums, but what is the point of repeating what’s gone before? There is so much depth revealed on repeated listening, and I think over time this will surpass Year Zero for me. One of the best releases of 2013, I certainly think so.

Order Hesitation Marks (Deluxe Edition) from Amazon UK

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack

12 12 2011

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Trent Reznor’s third recent collaboration with Atticus Ross (the other two being the Academy Award winning The Social Network soundtrack and the post NIN band How to Destroy Angels) is the soundtrack to the David Fincher directed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The album is framed by a bookend of cover versions – the opener is a cover of Led Zeppelin‘s Immigrant Song, which is probably already one of the most played songs this year, featuring in the trailer for the film that has received millions of YouTube viewings. Featuring  Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs on vocals, its the most guitar heavy piece on the soundtrack.  Bar the final track, the rest of the album is made up of dark, ambient, atmospheric instrumental music.

Reznor & Ross worked together during the latter Nine Inch Nails years, most notably on the Ghosts I-IV album, so this dark electronica is a continuation of their previous work. An early highlight on this 39 track release is What If We Could?, a gentle piano piece that stands out from the darkness of the preceding music. With The Flies follows, and is one of the most disturbing tracks on the album, with an incessant buzzing hinting at what are probably gory visuals in the forthcoming film.

A Thousand Details is an uptempo NIN-like romp, but the parts of the album I enjoy the most are the atypical, softer pieces, of which One Particular Moment is a particular highlight.  The bar-room piano motif is underpinned by soft synth pads that give way to razor sharp buzz synths. Please Take Your Hand Away continues with the bar-room piano and adds some eerie, discordant flute to the orchestration.

The Same As The Others is another highlight – with a simple guitar refrain, and whistling wind effects.  While Waiting stands out due to the rare use of voice – but still no words. The Seconds Drag ticks along at a metronomic pace, underpinned by bells and a nagging guitar line.  Bells feature on many tracks on this soundtrack, and are one of the key sounds that repeat and re-arrange themes throughout the album.

Parallel Timeline With Alternate Outcome is a slow-burning piano led track that starts to change when the buzzing flies previously used appear and lead to a disturbing end to the track.

The album closes with the second vocal track, and the second cover version, in the shape of Bryan Ferry‘s Legend track from 1986, Is Your Love Strong Enough?, performed on this soundtrack by How to Destroy Angels. This haunting version, stripped of the clunky 80’s snare of the original, is a fine end to the album.  It’s the only track featuring vocals from Reznor (towards the end of the song) and does make you hanker for a new Nine Inch Nails album (which may be on the cards for 2012).

Obviously, the main aim of a soundtrack is to accompany visuals, heightening tension, and strengthening the viewers emotional response to scenes, but sometimes soundtracks work as stand-alone listening experiences. For me, this album joins Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Clint Mansell‘s Black Swan as non-song based soundtracks that can be enjoyed in isolation of their accompanying films.

The soundtrack is available from the Nine Inch Nails website or iTunes, with a CD release on the 26th December, to tie-in with the film’s release.

Buy The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on Amazon

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