“He can do everyone else’s job better than they can,” drummer and singer Dave Grohl has said of longtime friend Trent Reznor. Indeed, since the 1989 debut of his band, Nine Inch Nails, Reznor has won two Grammy Awards from 12 nominations as well as two Academy Awards for his outstanding soundtracks to the films “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Reznor is a modern one-man band: singing, writing, drumming, producing and playing a large variety of instruments on every album. His influence is huge: 1999’s “The Fragile” is basically an early dubstep album. In addition, he has changed his style multiple times, and his discography has taken many twists and turns.
“Hesitation Marks” is no exception to this rule. There is a variety of musical influences and sounds throughout the album, most of them based in, surprisingly, modern pop. “Copy of A” features an auto-tuned loop of his voice over a synthpop background, and “Everything” features melodic, lifting guitars reminiscent of Jimmy Eat World and other perky pop-punk outfits. Not everything is that bright and cheery though. The album starts with a dark, haunting wall of noise that seems like it would belong in a horror movie. This is not strange, considering that his songs were featured in “The Crow” and “Se7en.” In fact, the album plays out a bit like a movie. Following that opening sequence, we hear a man frantically breaking down on “Copy of A,” as he laments how he is conforming to a society that does not please him (this might explain the auto-tune). The album then follows his descent into chaos, best characterized by “Disappointed,” which seems like a bit of a mockery of Radiohead’s “Optimistic.” He has a brief moment of redemption on “Everything,” but the story ends like it began on “Black Noise” by returning to a scary piece with no real melody. It is hard to interpret how the character’s journey concludes, but the term “hesitation marks” refers to the shallow wound left while testing a blade for suicide. The album has a tragic theme, but the reason it is delivered so well might be because it could be based off the years of depression Reznor faced between 1994’s “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile.”
View it as a concept album, a parody of modern artists or just a grand piece of music. Any way, it is hard to deny that this is a great album. Its songs will attract anyone who enjoys pop, dubstep, rock, metal or punk. The album’s largest flaw is that its cornucopia of sounds makes it a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Fortunately, its availability on iTunes makes it easy to pick and choose the tracks that correspond with your favorite genre. Although it might not be Reznor’s best work to date, or the best of the year, I highly recommend buying at least one track.
Noah Towne is a sophomore at Clarence High School.