rating: 4It's been a little over five years since the last release by Nine Inch Nails, but Hesitation Marks is well worth the wait. Now married, a father of two, and an Academy Award winning composer, Trent Reznor returns with not only a new album, but a new outlook on life. In between the release of 2008's The Slip and now, Reznor found himself composing the score for David Fincher's film The Social Network. During that time, he had announced that NIN was through touring and that he was stepping away from the music scene for a while. After scoring TSN, he formed the band How To Destroy Angels with his wife Mariqueen Maandig, and collaborator Atticus Ross. The HTDA project had Mariqueen at the forefront both on the album and via live shows and had a distinct sound that kept it separate from NIN. Shortly after, he again teamed with Fincher to compose the score for the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Despite separating himself from Nine Inch Nails, it seemed he had more to say and the end result was well worth the long waited return. Recorded in Reznor's home studio, Hesitation Marks was written, produced, arranged, and performed by Trent Reznor with additional instrumentation by Adrian Belew, Alessandro Cortini, Lindsey Buckingham, Pino Palladino, Ilan Rubin, and Joshua Eustis. The album was written as a direct response to 1994's The Downward Spiral and in a lot of ways is a companion piece to it, though very different sonically and thematically. Where TDS was more about giving into addiction and spiraling out of control, Hesitation Marks is Trent looking back on the person he was then in contrast to now. The track Copy Of A suggests that he is coming to terms with the changes in his life and feels that a sense of purpose is now clearer than before. It kicks off the album after the instrumental The Eater Of Dreams, with a sound that is more akin to Kraftwerk than anything in the NIN catalog. It sets the tone for the rest of the album in that its largely electronic and slightly pop oriented. The first few songs, thematically, seem to pick up where the The Downward Spiral left off. Perhaps the most jarring point in the album is the seventh track, Everything. It's a track that is very Cure-esque and is outwardly positive in its lyrical content. In that song, Reznor affirms that he's survived all the trials and tribulations in his life and is ready to move forward and accept the changes to come. I personally think it's one of the stronger tracks on the album because of the arrangement and lyrics alone. It truly was nice to hear someone like Mr. Reznor feel comfortable and confident enough to put out something like that, on a NIN album especially. The middle of hour long run time is where the album truly takes on its own form and becomes more unpredictable as it progresses. The last four tracks, I Would For Your, In Two, While I'm Still Here, and Black Noise all run together as one piece which works incredibly well as they serve their purpose in bringing the album to a close and reflecting on the struggle in embracing, but ultimately accepting the change in personality and thought process of the album's central narrator. While this may be a biased opinion, as a long time fan I can honestly say this album is his greatest work since 1999's The Fragile. Though some of Hesitation Marks is so incredibly different musically, that's also what I appreciate about the album. On my first listen, I enjoyed hearing Reznor hit a few falsetto notes here and there, the catchy hooks, the pop-induced labyrinth of blips in the track Satellite, and the low bass that encompasses the vast majority of songs. I could go on and on about what I love about this album sonically, but the lyrical content is as sharp as it's ever been. Some of the lyrics sound like they were hard to commit to the narrative being told, but it's that type of honesty and concise writing that fans have become familiar with and come to expect with each release. Hesitation Marks is an incredibly brave album that benefits from tracks like Disappointed and the layered strings that become a wall of sound that bring it to a close, and the airy saxophone that mirrors Bowie's earlier efforts in While I'm Still Here. From start to finish the album's diverse, rich in sound, and grandiose in its layers upon layers of intricate techniques spread among several contributors. It is an important return to the concept album in regards to Nine Inch Nails, and one can hope that whatever comes next is just as exciting and bold.