As the singular force behind Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor spent the first two decades of his career transforming his inner demons into multiplatinum industrial pop. But in 2009 he retired NIN to focus on film scores (he picked up both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for The Social Network), have two kids, and start a band with his wife. So why would Reznor, an accomplished musician closing in on 50, come back to shout into the void? Because even though he's a sober family man now, he still struggles with duality man and machine, good and evil, and most important, the beauty and brutality in his songs. Both Hesitation Marks' lead single, ''Came Back Haunted,'' and the propulsive, New Order-nodding ''Everything'' rank among Reznor's finest. His one vice is an obsessive attention to detail, which has served him well in the past but here suffocates the more delicate melodies of ''In Two'' and ''All Time Low.''
Then again, maybe that's the sound of Reznor finally mastering his electronic puppets and having established dominion over technology, he can show off his inner peace; the sweet end-of-days lament ''While I'm Still Here'' acts as a counterpoint to his 1994 opus ''Hurt,'' trading in hopeless alienation for a human touch. It's Trent's brand of optimism: The world is still coming to an end, but at least he's not facing it alone. B+