A NIN-terlude: Came Back Haunted

Most of my friends know of my love of all things Trent Reznor. From the point that I was introduced to Nine Inch Nails in high school, the band’s frontman never ceased to be my favorite musician (except for maybe Jonathan Bates). Officially, it’s a bit silly to call NIN a “band,” since the lineup has always been secondary to Reznor’s one-man creative process.

You're seriously not going to get into a fight with this man over his music. You will not win.

You’re seriously not going to get into a fight with this man over his music. You will not win.

Beginning with Pretty Hate Machine in 1989, NIN has released a total of 27 CDs (or halos) – seven LPs with the rest being EPs, B-sides, and remix albums. With the exception of a few years between The Fragile (1999) and With Teeth (2004), this is the longest that we’ve gone without an official Nine Inch Nails LP release. Until today. So let’s talk about the new single, “Came Back Haunted” and what it says about NIN’s new direction, Reznor’s musical growth, and my odd relationship with this strange, strange man.

Reznor, who took a break from touring NIN in 2009, has since busied himself winning Oscars for film scores and starting a music project with his gorgeous wife.

The cutest couple. Guh, Mariqueen Maandig.

The cutest couple. Guh, Mariqueen Maandig.

I appreciated the new direction his music had taken, and for all intents and purposes, accepted that he had moved on from NIN.

Until some exciting announcements a couple weeks ago, that is. Last month, Reznor announced the triumphant return of Nine Inch Nails, complete with a worldwide tour and Halo 28, Hesitation Marks, to be released September 3rd, 2013.

Last night, Reznor dropped the new single off the album, titled “Came Back Haunted.”

My feelings toward the song are a little mixed. While I’m stupidly excited for the release of a new LP, reports that the song hearkens back to the early years of Nine Inch Nails were misguided, and set me up for disappointment.

I’m definitely a fan of the pre-With Teeth era; in my opinion, The Fragile was the band’s musical peak. A raw, emotional two-disc album, The Fragile didn’t feel like it was trying to be anything other than what it was, a stark contrast to With Teeth’s “comeback” feel, Year Zero’s political overtones, Ghosts experimental nature, and The Slip’s “middle finger to the music industry” vibe.

And then of course there's "Strobe Light" - produced by Timbaland.

And then of course there’s Strobe Light.

I enjoyed the aforementioned albums, though many of them took me several play-throughs to absorb and accept as part of the “new” sound of Nine Inch Nails. Beginning with early experimentation in With Teeth, Reznor has steadily moved to incorporate more synth into his music, a decision that transformed the gritty industrial sound of NIN from something jagged and raw around the edges to polished electronic industrial.

“Came Back Haunted” sounds like it would have fit perfectly into The Slip, practically a B-side of “Discipline.” While I appreciate good layering in music, something Reznor did very well with How to Destroy Angels, I wasn’t enthralled by the generic beat, a sort of techno-funk with industrial qualities. Admittedly, this is how I felt about the entirety of The Slip and Year Zero.

Did I mention that Year Zero had some political overtones? I should say that again.

Did I mention that Year Zero had some political overtones? I should say that again.

Still, there was a strange sense of comfort in listening to “Came Back Haunted”, partly because it touched on so many Nine inch Nails lyrical tropes I’ve become accustomed to hearing with every album (see also.) If the rest of the Hesitation Marks goes in this direction, I’ll probably be ok with it, but will feel a sense of disappointment because it’s not the NIN I love anymore, it’s just the NIN I cling to and continue desperately throwing money at. I like that Reznor is returning to a sound that has come to be associated with Nine Inch Nails, and I’m hoping that the new album will benefit from his experience in film scoring and HDA.

In the end,  “Came Back Haunted” sounds like Nine Inch Nails, just not my favorite era of Nine Inch Nails, and I need to admit to myself that the old Nine Inch Nails is something I can never have.

My favorite dreams of you still wash ashore, Trent. My favorite dreams of you still wash ashore.

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