Trent Reznor is one of alternative rock's great survivors. Few get to go so far down the path of self destruction and come back not only emotionally but with a flourishing career. But it has always been the fact Reznor really suffers for his art that has drawn fans to his music. Yet now he's clean and happily married, will his work maintain its appeal?
The relief will be that there's no radical departure from traditional Nine Inch Nails territory on Come Back Haunted. The themes of the album will be familiar to regular NIN listeners, with the greed, abuse, decay degradation of the human condition topics of interest. 'Copy Of A' indicating how we have become as branded and disposable as the things we've owned, while 'All Time Low' paints a picture of addiction set to a disorientating rhythm.
Listen to 'Came Back Haunted' below
Yet there's a new optimism that represents a departure from previous records. Title track 'Came Back Haunted' points to Reznor's voyage through the dark times but as coming through events, if a little scarred by the experience. Its a point 'Everything' makes more explicitly with its first line “I survive everything”, set to a strangely upbeat tempo and pop-ish rhythm
The music too has evolved. Involvement in successful projects such as award-winning The Social Network soundtrack has resulted in a sound that is now more ambient and minimalist. In many ways this record is more electronica than anything he's done before, with odd beeps and clicks replacing what at one point in his career might have been screeches or feedback. 'Satellite' even sounds a little R&B until a more angular chorus kicks in.
This sound is a bit of a departure for those expecting some of the grating and visceral tones that have gone before. But there's still much of the beauty that typified the Jekyll side of Reznor's personality. 'Find My Way' is a serene reminder of his Ghosts work, while 'Various Methods of Escape' has a sawing, aching quality to its melody that typifies Reznor's excellent ability to express emotion through sound.
Listen to 'Satellite' below
Overall this is a record of someone clearly coming to peace with themselves after some significant torment. If the aggression of previous records is now spent, the sense of anguish remains. As such, Came Back Haunted is as powerful as anything else that NIN has reached before, even if its a different shade of emotion.
Some may not enjoy that side of Reznor as much as the angry and energetic material. But this is no less a credible or less well crafted. A great record where a survivor lets us know his story is worth hearing.