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Chris Schulz reviews Trent Reznor's return as Nine Inch Nails.

Even the biggest Trent Reznor fanboy would have to admit that, in 2013, there's no desperate need for a new Nine Inch Nails album.

After 2009's Wave Goodbye tour, it felt like Reznor had said everything he needed to say and moved on, trading a life of drug-fuelled nihilism and ultra-paranoid alt-rock for another involving marriage (to fellow rocker Mariqueen Maandig), children (two boys), Oscar-winning soundtracks (The Social Network) and a so-so vanity project (How to Destroy Angels).

So the return of Nine Inch Nails is something of a surprise, but even more shocking is just how content Reznor - the man who helped soundtrack teen angst from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s - sounds.

"I've survived everything," the 48-year-old yelps on Everything, a poignant and celebratory line that's wasted on a head-scratching joke-rock jam that was slammed on social media for being so damned upbeat.


It's a sign that Reznor hasn't quite worked out how to join the dots between his old life and his new.

His fans may need time to do the same. For those who still consider 1994's The Downward Spiral to be Nine Inch Nails' masterpiece, the Los Angeles-based band's eighth album contains some jarring moments, like the awkward falsetto in All Time Low, Everything's weird vocal pitches, the calypso drums in Running and Disappointed's housey dance tempo.

But this is still a Nine Inch Nails album at its heart. Despite the occasional pop melody or vocal hook, Reznor's mellow seething underscores an unsettling electronic blueprint, meaning Hesitation Marks fits neatly between 1999's depraved double album, The Fragile, and 2007's apocalyptic vision, Year Zero.

And, despite being wayward at times, there are moments that are up there with Reznor's best work.

"This is where the fun begins," he declares over the skittery stride of All Time Low. He's right: there is plenty to enjoy, such as the grinding menace of I Would For You that builds and unleashes into a classic "I've been lying to myself" chorus, the industrial rock blast of Came Back Haunted that huffs and puffs before punching you square in the face, and the stunning atmospherics of album closer While I'm Still Here, which could easily run for 20 minutes without getting boring.

Then there's the ridiculous future-funk of Satellite, a divisive track that combines basement rave boogie with Timbaland-style bass theatrics while Reznor coos lines such as, "I'm part of you, I'm inside your head". Depending on which side of the fence you sit, it's Hesitation Marks' highlight - or nadir.

For Downward Spiral fans, there are reminders here that the man behind Hurt can still write affecting ballads destined to be sung by lighter-waving masses: check out Reznor's desperate emoting on the slow-building brilliance of Find My Way, and Various Methods of Escape, a taut and howling electro-ballad that ends with Reznor screaming, "I've got to let go".

Let's hope he doesn't. Despite the occasional misfire, Hesitation Marks treads a difficult path well, combining maturity with introspection, reflection, subtlety and progression.

Perhaps Reznor puts it best when he sighs, "I'm just trying to find my way."

Stars: 3.5/5
Verdict: Trent Reznor mellows out on occasionally wayward comeback
Click here to buy Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails.
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- TimeOut