Nine Inch Nails‘ comeback album is right up there with their best. It’s exhilaratingly depressing in the way that only NIN can be. It sounds good quiet, and it sounds great up loud.

After the catchy and rhythmic Came Back Haunted and Everything, and the more low-key Copy of a, I was pretty keen to pick up this album. I do like all those tracks — they carry on in the same vein as With Teeth, the last really good NIN album. Year Zero was mostly pretty bad apart from maybe The Good Soldier (“…and the bass goes boom” — ahem). Trent Reznor’s attempts at ironic machismo (Survivalism, Capital G, in fact the whole album) mostly just come across as clunky and unsubtle. (See also Big Man With a Gun from a while back.) The remixes from Year Zero were mostly better than the originals, which is never a good sign. Ghosts I-IV was in a different category altogether, while The Slip had some good songs but was underdone.

So the initial tracks seemed to show that Hesitation Marks would be a worthy follow-up to the earlier work. And so it is. It’s a bit more electronic and a bit less rock than With Teeth, but the production is still first-rate and the lyrics are still horribly bleak — just the way we like ’em. Song titles like The Eater of Dreams, All Time Low and Disappointed reveal that as usual, there is not a lot of sunlight in this album.

I Would For You is my favourite track, and now one of my favourite NIN songs. It has the same despairing, yet slightly hopeful, feel as We’re In This Together from The Fragile, another of my favourites. I guess I’m just a despairingly hopeful kind of guy. Though actually listening to the lyrics of the song reveals that it’s not as optimistic as I thought — despite the plaintive yet uplifting chorus, the song has the same theme as most NIN songs: everything has gone wrong, I’ve fallen into the pit of hopeless bleak despair and there’s nothing anybody can do to help me. It continually amazes me how much good music Trent can wrangle out of that one idea.

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