Menifee Plugged In: Reznor's New Release is Study in Contrasts

By Neil Kristjansson

In 1994, "The Downward Spiral" album was released. Noisy, raw and visceral.

At 28, this marked Trent Reznor’s most successful era, bringing his band Nine Inch Nails into mainstream light. Unfortunately, under overwhelming fame and success was festering frustration and a growing addiction. As the title suggests, this marked the period of his own personal downward spiral.

Deep in the throes of depression, his condition worsened. His work had begun to take shape and manifest as Reznor’s life. At the time, one of the most notable tracks from "The Downward Spiral" was the track "Hurt". It marked the sorrowful end to a sorrowful journey -- the might-have-been if he’d continued down that road.

Following a grueling two and a half year tour, Reznor just disappeared.

In 2009, he retired Nine Inch Nails. After seven albums, one lengthy EP, two award-winning film scores, and a side project, he was finally on the other side. Now 48, Reznor is married with two kids. A happy end to a sorrowful journey. But was the journey over?

In 2013, "Hesitation Marks" was released. It's minimal, masterful and clean. So what does a man who’s been through it all do after that? Announce a new tour and a new album, completely out of nowhere.

This announcement was met with mixed reactions. Although mostly excited, many people were confused as to how it would work. The man is happy, a contrast to the usual themes of Nine Inch Nails. But despite a happier life, he is not immune to the ghosts of his past. The first single from this record, "Came Back Haunted", deals with this issue. Filled with the musical tropes of Nine Inch Nails, it’s widely accepted as a "test track" for Reznor to get back in the game.

Many people were not entirely accepting of the song at first. It wasn’t until other songs had begun to creep from their hiding place that people latched onto the album.

Now objectives aside, in my opinion, this record is easily his second best. A borderline sequel to "The Downward Spiral", "Hesitation Marks" is essentially the other side of what was happening. It's a long conversation with his past self, trying to come to terms with the fact that he used to be the self-destructive man most people remember him as.

Nobody wants to face the skeletons in their closet. Void of frustration, fear, and addictions, Reznor is able to reflect on that side of him. With tracks like "All Time Low", a sort of on-top-of-the-world track exclaiming "We’re never gonna die", and "Various Methods of Escape", a song of remorse and trying to "let go [and]… get straight", we get to see the contrast between the past and present self of Trent Reznor.

As previously mentioned, this album is minimal and clean. It's not nearly as heavy or dark as his previous albums, but he still maintains a masterful, yet different approach to his usual mixture of electronics and rock. An artist known for his melodies, he definitely emphasized the use of beats and percussion this time around.

Not nearly as layered or scary as the past, this album is definitely easy to approach. It’s catchy if you want to hear, it’s deep if you want to listen. I mean, when Trent Reznor is featuring artists like Adrian Belew (of King Crimson and David Bowie) and Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac) in his work, you know that something great is about to unfold.

"Hesitation Marks" is an amazing collaborative work behind the mastermind himself, Trent Reznor, and is definitely worth a listen or two or 10. And, considering it’s now available, there’s no excuse. Go get it!

Neil Kristjansson's "Menifee Plugged In" column appears each Monday. He writes about two things of interest to most of the younger generation -- music and electronic gaming. He welcomes your comments here or though email at


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