"I am just a copy of a copy of a copy," sings a provocative Trent Reznor, one of the most distinctive voices in American music, in his first vocal on the new Nine Inch Nails record.
As tense and moody as ever, Nine Inch Nails sound reinvigorated on Hesitation Marks, an album that recalls The Downward Spiral era of the band more than any other, yet bristles with an entirely different energy, a dark sort of frustration simmering from beginning to end.
"Came Back Haunted" is the first single and the calling card for the album, a more direct statement-of-purpose song than any in Reznor's past catalog. He is here, now, not the sort of artist to rest on 1990s nostalgia and 20-year-anniversary deluxe reissues. "I am not who I used to be," Reznor sings, but the difference, in terms of Nine Inch Nails' distinguishing characteristics, is purely academic. He's back and he's haunted, just like he always was.
"Came Back Haunted" is also a telling statement for the album's process. Recording with recent collaborators Atticus Ross and Alan Moulder for new songs to liven up a potential greatest-hits album, Reznor found a burst of inspiration for 14 new tracks.
Neither a retread nor a victory lap, Hesitation Marks is as ambitious and well executed as anything in Nine Inch Nails' catalog. "I survived everything/ I have tried everything," Reznor sings on the album's catchiest tune, the practically upbeat "Everything," his voice surrounded by pulsating synths and distorted guitars. He sure has, and that artistic restlessness once again yields a triumph of an album.