Nine Inch Nails (NIN) are back. In 2009 band leader Trent Reznor announced the end of the band’s musical output and touring for the “foreseeable future”. The news came as a shock as it followed a spell of high productivity in 2008, with the albums ‘The Slip’ and ‘Ghosts I-IV’, and the ‘Lights in the Sky’ tour, following the departure from Interscope Records.
Fast-forward four years and whilst Reznor has maintained a consistent output with a mixture of soundtracks (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘The Social Network’) and several releases from his side project ‘How To Destroy Angels’, all NIN activity had remained deathly silent. However, behind the scenes, Reznor was secretly busy finishing a new NIN album entitled ‘Hesitation Marks’
‘Came Back Haunted’ was the first, and currently only, material released from the new album due September the third. It is typical NIN; dark synths weaving between a tight electronic drum beat overlaid with Reznor’s half-whispered, half-bellowed vocals. ‘Came Back Haunted’ fits well into NIN’s discography, with the atmosphere of ‘The Fragile’, the rhythms of ‘Year Zero’ and the power of ‘With Teeth’. It would be easy for Reznor to not develop the NIN sound, keeping it safe and consistent, but immediately the song has new elements. An influence from the heavily electronically-based How To Destroy Angels is apparent, as well as a more groove-orientated approach.
As a reunion-of-sorts, there is always a risk of disappointment from unrealistic expectations caused by a craving that has been building for years. Not only is ‘Came Back Haunted’ a solid re-introduction to NIN, but with the reveal of the cover art by Russell Mills (who produced the cover for their second album ‘The Downward Spiral’), the pressure to produce a masterpiece is only heightened. Although for many fans the new album will never come close to the brilliance of the original three albums, even the worst of NIN albums would still be a masterpiece. Reznor doesn’t do second-rate and I expect this will still be the case come September.
As is the case with most bands, the most prominent songs aren’t always the best cuts from the album. Nowhere is this more true than for the quite substantial NIN back catalog. So here are five of my personal favourite ‘hidden-gems’:
5 – ‘All The Love In The World’ from ‘With Teeth’: This is a song of two halves. What starts off as a mellow piano ballad, framed in atmospheric swells grows into an foot-stomping, piano-led, near-dance tune.
4 – ‘Big Man With A Gun’ from ‘The Downward Spiral’: Whilst this is nowhere near the best material on the album, it’s lyrical content is what gets its place on the list. After a first listen it will sound like just another shallow song about a man and his “big old dick” because that’s what Reznor wanted people to hear. It was really a satirical look at a lot of popular rap music where misogyny was rife and women were treated almost a sex slaves. This song covers a very topical subject matter which is still a relevant almost twenty years later.
3 – ‘The Great Destroyer’ from ‘Year Zero’: Again, this is a song of two halves. The first is a catchy rock song with crunching guitars and pounding electronic drum beats, which merges into a barrage of distorted effects and burbling electronics resembling something close to dubstep. As a song which is formed around what is either a love or a hate moment, this is probably a controversial pick, but purely for its originality, it earns the number three spot.
2 – ‘Right Where It Belongs Version 2’, bonus track from ‘With Teeth’: Bonus tracks are a dodgy area. Sometimes what was left off the album was left off for a reason and using it as a bonus track is cheating the fans. Other times, they’ll make you scream at the band in disbelief that it wasn’t included on the main album. This is one of the latter. Version two is just a stripped back version of the original which is on the album. All the effects and electronic shenanigans are removed, leaving a fragile shell of music encompassing some of Reznor’s most heartfelt lyrics. Cue shivers and goose-pimples.
1 – ‘The Frail’ and ‘The Wretched’ from ‘The Fragile’: These two songs were always played live together as one long seamless musical piece, just like the album. ‘The frail’ is a sparse piano prologue to the power that awaits in ‘The Wretched’. The verse builds with churning synths and pounding drums, until it explodes to life with layers of guitars in the chorus. True brilliance.