Yes, it appeared Trent Reznor was hanging up Nine Inch Nails four years ago, when he announced a "farewell" tour. But that was a different world.
Today, so much of the ever-growing electronic dance music scene can be traced to Reznor's early work on "Pretty Hate Machine" and "The Downward Spiral" that it's no wonder he has revived the band for "Hesitation Marks" (Columbia), the first Nine Inch Nails album in five years and its best since 1999's "The Fragile."
"I survived everything," Reznor sings in "Everything," which seems to retrace the steps of his entire career in just over three minutes, from bouncy synth pop to roaring guitars and back again. "I have tried everything."
That may be true, but Reznor is still finding new ways his previously mastered pieces can fit together. There's a bit of Wire in the circular nature of "Copy of A," a bit of Bee Gees falsetto in "In Two." With contributions from Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, the great bassist Pino Palladino and the inventive guitarist Adrian Belew, Reznor's songs are spare, while sounding deceptively complex.
The biggest change for Reznor is in his delivery. No more shouting here; his rage is tempered by two decades of experience, a stint in rehab, and a wife and two kids. He still sounds troubled in the single "Came Back Haunted," though the pain seems much more manageable, especially as he turns it into a catchy chorus of whispered "haw-haw-haunted."
"Hesitation Marks" is the work of an adult, more measured, but also more masterful.
NINE INCH NAILS
BOTTOM LINE Returning to claim the EDM throne