Why would a musician work so hard on his music and just toss off his lyrics?
There's no denying that Trent Reznor's brand of industrial-dance-rock is unusually strong on "Hesitation Marks." It's the most meticulously crafted music from an artist obsessed with the perfect sound. But it's hard, at first, to appreciate the funky riffs, calypso drums and falsetto vocals when he's dropping lyrics like this: "Now my path has gone astray/I'm just tryin' to find my way/Wandered here from far away/I'm just tryin' to find my way."
I tried to make peace with the words by saying they're automatic. You know, like an automatic drawing, for which the artist doesn't think at all and just begins to draw.
This has to be how Reznor writes lyrics, right? Because how could a guy who's otherwise so smart and can seamlessly blend so many different musical styles write stuff like, "There was a place that could have been/ Step over all it used to be/ Since you have let yourself come in/ Some things I'd rather you not see." It's seemingly sincere and straight-from-him (he deserves credit for that), but it's also painfully banal.
This shouldn't be that much of an issue. I've been listening to Nine Inch Nails for about 18 years and at this point, I should know what I'm getting, right? But I definitely used to pound my fists to lyrics like "Bow down before the one you serve/ You're going to get what you deserve." I know it's not Dylan, but it's catchy. So, maybe that's the problem. Maybe it's not the words - maybe the hooks aren't good enough.
Regardless, the music is brilliant and is so good, it should make you forget my rant entirely. There are so many things going on in songs like "Running" that you'll discover new sounds every time you listen. I'm not even going to try to identify all the noises, but let's just say that I believe Reznor when, in an interview with NPR, he said, "We put a mic up in a room and had a bunch of just junk around ... we just started banging on things, recording everything and extracting them and treating them." (The quote was actually in regards to "Find My Way" but could apply to several songs.)
There's always been a little funk in Reznor's goth, and it becomes really apparent on the song "Satellite," which could almost pass for Bowie or Prince if it wasn't for that sludgy synth and those threatening guitar parts. It's one of the strongest tracks on this effort and hint at a promising future for Reznor's compositions.
As other critics have said, Reznor continually proves himself as an artist and not an alt-rock relic. I just wish he'd become a little more of a poet.