See, I didn't think much of this record when it first came out. I liked Copy Of A and Came Back Haunted, but on the whole, I felt that there were too many go-nowhere tracks and not enough personality. Unlike previous NIN classics like The Downward Spiral, Hesitation Marks didn't seem to tell any sort of story, as though its fourteen tracks didn't aspire to be anything more than just fourteen new tracks. Oh, and I thought the title was dull.
But! Shortly before the gig on Wednesday, I had a wee read about HM on Wikipedia, and it turns out that its bland-sounding title actually means something:
"The album title is derived from 'hesitation wounds', marks that are produced by testing a bladed weapon before attempting suicide or self-harming."
And just like that, Hesitation Marks became an album I could get behind. Not because I'm a sucker for songs about suicide (although I can offer plenty of recommendations to anyone who is - try Bathtime by Tindersticks, for starters), but because now the album had a theme, a thread to tie everything together.
Songs are generally more interesting when you understand a little bit about the character who's singing them, and the eighth Nine Inch Nails album is far more engaging when you realise that the narrator is contemplating suicide. Suddenly, every complaint becomes a potential reason to quit; listen to Disappointed with the whole suicide thing in mind, and see how the meaning changes with that frame around it:
"Nothing's gonna change, and I am part of the reason"
Here's the funn thing, though: in spite of all that 'brink of suicide' stuff, Hesitation Marks is probably the most hopeful record in the Halo catalogue. Check out I Would For You:
"If I could be somebody else...I think I would for you"
There's a suggestion of redemption there; the central protagonist is realising that, in spite of everything that we've been hearing about up until this point, he does have something to live for, and it begins to sound like he will go on living (at least for the time being). This is more or less confirmed by the last lines (and indeed the title) of While I'm Still Here, the album's penultimate track:
"Stay with me, hold me near while I'm still here"
Sure, it still sounds like this guy won't be alive for much longer, but he seems to have some living left to do, and so - for now - he's going no further than hesitation marks. It's certainly a more optimistic ending than Hurt.