Pretty Hate Machine. Came out in 1989. Trent Reznor was 24 years old. An album that was “popular” and seemingly meant to be that way, with lots of club-worthy beats and synth-pop style, with words that spoke to the urgings of a teenaged boy becoming a man and the desires and experiences that drive him.
Broken. Came out in 1992. Trent Reznor was 27 years old. Written during a fight with his label at time, and released after he was “traded” to another. An anger filled album about what it’s like being forced to take orders from a disrespectful patron who believe themselves your master.
The Downward Spiral came out in 1994. Trent Reznor was 29, and this album “made” him, according to many. It’s an examination of hopelessness in many ways, through the cynical, jaded eye of a man trying to understand life, trying to function within the madness.
The Fragile came out in 1999. Trent Reznor was 34 years old. He was still riding high off the last album, and this one was excellent in and of itself. It examined many more of life’s experiences.
With Teeth came out in 2005. Trent Reznor was 40 years old. He had battled with addiction and “won”, entering the “recovery” period of addiction. It examined politics of the time as well as delving a bit deeper into philosophy, as if Trent was trying to find a new focus, to “do something that mattered”.
Year Zero came out in 2007. Trent Reznor was 42 years old. This album was a story. It reminded me of how Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was very much a story. This one was an alternate reality, and a pretty cool one… well, if you like dystopian futures that get overrun by aliens/deities eliminating the human race.
Ghosts and The Slip were released in 2008. Trent Reznor was 43 years old. They were sort of “gifts” from Trent, being freely available. Ghosts is a cool set of instrumentals, great for thinking. I never really got into The Slip as heavily, personally, but I’m going to have to reexamine it, and see if it “fits” with what I’m about to say.
Hesitation Marks was just released, September 3rd, 2013. Trent Reznor is now 48 years old.
This album is evolutionary, just like every other album has been since PHM. Trent Reznor is married with a couple of kids. He has won awards. He has money. These are not the energy filled, sex-focused days of PHM. There’s more to life than the angst of Downward Spiral, and he’s come through the rest of the “experimental” times of his life.
I’m not sure what each of the songs meant to Trent Reznor while he was writing them or while he performs them, but if he’s like me, he’s disconnected from them anyway, as his creativity comes from some inner place that’s not consciously accessible to examination.
My view of it, though, is not what I have read in the various reviews, some enthused, some seemingly well-researched, but by people who have no real affinity for the band, by reviewers who see the art as an abstract.
I like it. It’s an older look at life, with all of the anxiety and self-doubt that come from looking at the world and one’s place in it. “I am just a copy of a” is the philosophical basis for the album, and everything that follows stems from it. It’s a story, and here’s my summary of it:
“Copy of a” is the basis for the album, an introspective and disturbing discovery. With this discovery in mind, he “Came Back Haunted“. He realizes he made a mistake and he sings, “I’m just trying to Find My Way“. He has a relapse and hits an “All time low“, and then beats the crap out of himself with “Disappointed“. He comes back from that dark place by repeating to himself that he’s survived “Everything“, but it’s all really just self-talk. He feels like he’s under a microscope now, and gets paranoid, looking for the “Satellite” that’s watching him. He thinks about “Various methods of escape“, to include suicide. It’s a dark place he retreats to because he feels trapped and wants to get away from everything. He starts “Running” to chase the one he loves and feels he has disappointed the most. He wants to fix things, singing, “If I could be somebody else, Well I think I would for you“. He decides to try to divide himself “In Two“, to become only the good for this person, but they point out that it’s hard to tell the person from the monster he wants to avoid being. He sees that his whole world is falling apart, that he faces death at some point, whether at his own hand or otherwise, and just seeks to survive it, asking for some comfort “While I’m Still Here“.
Maybe it’s me, the writer, seeing more than is really meant to be there. Maybe it’s Trent Reznor’s subconscious mind now or in the past. Maybe it’s just a series of poems he strung together and put to words to make a buck.
I don’t know, and honestly? I don’t care. I like the story I see here, and I like the album. Each album takes me a couple of listens to thoroughly “get into”, and this one will as well.
If you’re a fan of NIN, or Trent Reznor, get this album. It’s not “The Wall”, but it’s not meant to be. It’s another evolutionary step for Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. A small portion of the whole story of the man and the machine.