Greetings internets! It is I, the Sultry Sultan, here to soften the strain of seeking out strikingly stunning song for the sordid, the sad, and the squalid. The album I have chosen to use for my ignoble debut is Hesitation Marks of the band, Trent Reznor and the Soggy Bottom Boys…or as the proletariat has come to know them: Nine Inch Nails. Let me start by saying that I have an unapologetic NIN bias. If you can’t get down with the fact that some bands leave a permanent and indelible mark on your soul, you probably don’t love music on the level of the Sultan and his esteemed colleagues and therefore can go here, and then promptly to hell. #Realtalk though, for the initiated, some bands are like that one really emotionally abusive ex: no matter how many times they hurt you, you come running back to them like the sad, pathetic sack of shit you probably are. I have been fortunate though, with a few notable exceptions (bad, worse… fuck it) my favorite adolescent band and purveyor of the soundtrack to erection discovery hasn’t hurt me all that much.
NIN got its start in the late 80’s with synth pop masterpiece, Pretty Hate Machine, and have since had a rather prolific career spanning 8 full length albums, 2 EP’s, and around 10.496 “Halos,” that diehard, angst ridden, self-mutilators have squandered their precious pennies from their pizza delivery job to collect in their entirety. In the years after the release of the Fragile, NIN mastermind and only permanent member, Trent Reznor, got more press for his battling substance abuse than he did for any new music. Then in 2005, clean and sober, he released his first album in 6 years, and began a non stop touring schedule which undoubtedly has been his primary source of income. Since then Reznor has released 4 more LP’s, won an Oscar, and gotten ripped, married, and trapped: .
This brings us to the present day with Mister Reznor’s most recent effort. Despite what the artwork might suggest (It’s by David Lynch, the same guy that did the artwork for TDS), this album is not The Downward Spiral (or even his late career triumph, The Slip). If that’s what you want to hear, then go goddamn listen to TDS. NIN is a band that has an extremely rabid, and annoying fan base. The typical NIN fan has come to expect a certain brand from Reznor, and when he strays from this expected brand, the nerds, goths and gamers take to the internet for humorous but narrow minded antics, while adding the deluxe, triple throwdown, limited collectors blood red vinyl edition of the record, complete with a mold of Reznor’s cock to their shopping carts.
If you let go of your preconceived notions regarding what a NIN album should sound like (slashing, repetitive guitars, angsty lyrics, and a pulse pounding heavy synth beat) you will find that this is undeniably a NIN album; it’s solid, textured, layered, and intricate. Sonically, this album plays like your favorite novel reads– every time you re-visit it you pick up on some minutia, some intricacy that your clumsy ears missed on your last play through.
The album’s opener, “Copy of A” opens with a repetitive synth beat of five 16th notes pulsating in rapid succession with the downbeat consistently appearing in the exact place that you would expect for it not to be. This song, in an album that seems rife with insecurity in regards to musical relevance, is especially introspective, and even self-aware: “I am just a shadow of a shadow of a shadow. Always trying to catch up with myself.” It’s as if Reznor is pleading with his nagging fan base to understand that he is not going to attempt to replicate his classic tale of angst and self loathing, TDS. And why should he be expected to? Why should an artist feel obligated to placate the moron that I am always sitting right in front of that screams incessantly throughout the whole concert: “PLAY YOUR OLD SHIT!!!!” Ok, first, he can’t hear you, secondly, homeboy’s been touring since ’05. If you haven’t heard any of his “old shit,” then you’ve either been in a coma or you just haven’t been paying attention. Lastly, quit living in the past. Move out of your mom’s basement, take down your high school prom picture, buy some acetone to remove the black fingernail polish, and then drink it so that the next time I am at a NIN concert I can actually enjoy it.
This is a funky, beat driven album that sounds different depending on how you choose to consume your media. There is a version mastered specifically for vinyl purists, a version mastered “loud” for the stifling effects of mp3 compression, and then there is a third “audiofile” version that was mastered specifically for people who have high end equipment and “a working knowledge of the mastering process.”
The track “In Two,” arguably the best track on the record, Reznor incorporates a saxaphone that helps provide elucidation on the album’s title. Whenever one expects Reznor to cut loose with the aforementioned thrashing guitars and pulse pounding synth beats, he immediately pulls back and deftly applies, for instance, baroque yet somehow Minimalist South Asian strings (“Disappointed”), or a funky Prince-like synth beat (Satellite) that subtly redefines the parameters of the sound that Reznor has worked the last 20 plus years to cultivate. On “All TIme Low,” a personal favorite, Reznor harkens back to the days of The Fragile with the tense guitar plucks that echo so well “The Big Come Down,” (a disc 2 highlight) but with just a little bit of funk thrown in so that it does not feel forced or out of place on this record. Quite the contrary, it is an album highlight that conveys Reznor’s ability to adhere to the parameters that he has created for himself while experimenting with new ways in which to implement them.
All of this is not to say that this album is perfect…far from it in fact. Even on this album highlight, Reznor’s self-indulgence is palpable. The last two minutes of this song is composed of a super repetitive synth driven climb up the musical scale in whole-step fashion with the lyrics: “stretch across the sky,” said over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.
And since we’re talking about lyrics…wow. They are wretched. They aren’t With Teeth bad, (I pick things up. I am a collector. And things, well things, they tend to accumulate. I have this net. It drags behind me. It picks up feelings. For me to feed upon. …the fuck?) but some of them come damn close. “Satellite, I’m watching you I’m one step ahead. Satellite, I’m part of you. I’m inside your head.” Uuuuhhhh…..
The first time I heard the lead single. “Came Back Haunted,” the only respite and empathy I could find was in the comparatively Shakespearian writings of George Lucas. Came back haunted? From what? Millions of dollars and a hot Asian wife?
I don’t know if this album speaks to a growing issue in regards to lyrical content in new music, but it certainly seems artists are increasingly interested in composing lyrics that either mean absolutely nothing (e.g.2), or are just plain absurd. Either way at the end of the day, we as listeners want to be told a story. we want to be taken to different world for three and a half minutes, and we want it to be a meaningful sojourn. I am not particularly interested in hearing about Reznor’s paranoid delusions. I am pretty sure that the government’s satellites are more concerned with seeing which ethnic group is going to get gassed next in the Middle East than it is with the comings and goings of Reznor. But, I could be wrong…
With the exception of “In Two,” the last four songs seem to falter a bit in that they do not contain the urgency of the previous 10 and by this point, the restraint, or hesitation, that is this album’s trademark is worn a bit thin. We get it. Let’s vary it up a bit. All in all though, this is a solid effort by Reznor. The musical nuance and intricacy of his production is unparalleled, even if it is almost nullified by insipid, and mundane lyrics.
Moist Graffiti Rating
Sonically Original and Painstakingly Produced: 77.623
Best Beats Since Speakerboxxx: 82.723
Specific Mastering According to Preferred Listening Medium: 80.496
Lyrics That Make Me Want to Wrap My Mouth Around an Exhaust Pipe: 27.165
Don’t Give a Fuck Attitude: +3
NIN Bias: +2
MG Rating: 72.001