With Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails isn’t just selling an album—they’re telling a story. Unlike the common LP, the concept album represents the careful crafting of a collection of songs into a single work, unified musically, lyrically, and aesthetically. Nine Inch Nails does just that with Hesitation Marks, adding another great entry to the genres canon.
A number of the songs flow together a la Dark Side of the Moon, merging into an overarching aesthetic. The lyrics tell the story of a man with a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inspired ailment, and his journey of working through his dual nature. The tale starts with the creation of his Hyde persona in “Copy of a” and “Came Back Haunted.” Then NIN dives into the man’s Jekyll-like despair over his condition in “All Time Low,” and lyrically charts his attempts to break away from himself in “Various Means of Escape.” The conflict climaxes during a confrontation described in “Two of Us,” and “While I’m Still Here” paints the aftermath of the album’s compelling narrative.
The LP provides ample opportunity for Reznor to showcase his often overlooked vocal ability. On “Copy of a,” instead of just singing the same word again and again, Reznor’s voice at times repeats as if the record is skipping—a great change of pace from his usual vocals. On “Running,” Reznor sings as if out of breath, adding an intelligent realism to the LP.
Musically, Reznor creates a haunted atmosphere. The arrangements on the tracks vary greatly, from large and layered to scant and eerily vacant. Between the sparse drum beats and synth loops, the wildly distorted guitar, and eclectic mixes of other electronic sounds, Reznor and Co. (including Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on guitar) create the musical landscape and world of Hesitation Marks.
While piano only makes a few appearances over the course of the LP, it shines every time it does. In simple, lingering, Chopin-like lines, Reznor creates strikingly dark yet fantastically beautiful moments.
Hesitation Marks has something for everybody, between the heavy synth/electronic tracks like “I Would For You” and rockers like “Everything,” — a sort of NIN meets Beach Boys. It is a masterfully crafted album, and, in my opinion, is one of the best of the year. If the lyrics’ story doesn’t hold you, the music will.
Voice’s Choices: “Copy of a,” “Various Methods of Escape”
Originally Published in the Georgetown Voice on 08/29/13