Nine Inch Nails
With Teeth (Interscope)
Nine Inch Nails fans have waited 2,052 days – that’s right, six years since Trent Reznor last offered up a new full-length CD. Six years, as anyone in the music business will tell you, is an eternity. Wait that long, and anything can happen. And it usually does. Most conglomerate music industry insiders will encourage a turnaround of no more than two or three years between releases, but this is far from the model of Nine Inch Nails. It’s no secret that Reznor has never been one to release albums simply for the sake of having something to sell. This personality quirk has driven more than one of his business associates mad with frustration. Though sometimes a control freak, occasionally a victim of unforseen circumstances, and often a perfectionist to a fault, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that Reznor’s work never fails to shake the foundation of the music industry.
Central is his ability to write a good pop song. He’s a self-proclaimed pop artist, and a damned good one at finding the holy grail in pop music: A good hook and a catchy chorus. Like David Bowie, he can easily wear different genres of music (rock, metal, punk, hip hop, and industrial) comfortably. Add to the mix Reznor’s mastery of music engineering, production, and his ease with learning and assimilating new technologies, and it’s no wonder he’s often afforded the same respect among engineers and music artists that visual effects specialists offer George Lucas in the film industry. His classically-trained ear and concert piano performance skills have come in handy when crafting conceptual albums that echo many of the strongest acoustical themes of Beethoven, Bach, and Wagner, and delve into the philosophies of Nietzsche and Chomsky, and the psychologies of Freud and Jung.
To understand With Teeth from an artistic point, one may begin by comparing it to his last release, The Fragile. On the surface, the albums are a sharp contrast. One is a magnum opus concept album of 33 tracks, the other a 13-track collection that explores a multitude of ideas, but without encompassing any one concept as its central story. One was recorded and released through Nothing Records while Reznor was still a primary owner, the other was only released through Interscope Records after Reznor relinquished his stake in the fledgling record imprint. The Fragile was written, recorded, and performed with a comfortable supporting cast who’d worked with him for many years. Many of those contributors left the NIN camp before the recording of With Teeth began. Gone were the contributions of Danny Lohner, Charlie Clouser, and Robin Finck, who’ve all gone on to their own productive careers. Lohner as an in-demand producer and guitar player, Clouser as a successful television composer for such hits as Las Vegas and NUMB3RS, and Robin Finck as a guitar player for productions such as Cirque Du Soleil. New contributors were sought for With Teeth, contributors which eventually included the punchy drums of Dave Grohl and the turntables of Alien Tom.
The title suggests a primal form of Nine Inch Nails that never quite emerges, and while there are glimmers of aggression and intensity in the compelling, hook-filled “The Hand that Feeds” and the scathing inside joke (and Land of Rape and Honey-era Ministry nod) of “You Know What You Are,” the album lyrics are rather generalized about exactly what irks Reznor so. It’s only by understanding Reznor’s struggles that the lyrics become clear. Reznor has suffered financially from a manager who took advantage of him, and his struggles with alcoholism and bi-polar disorder have become legend. This makes for a very complex record.
The rest of his albums have a more easily detectable motif that run through each of them. Pretty Hate Machine was primarily a personal memoir; Broken, a personal and societal colonic; The Downward Spiral, an introspection in the mechanisms of human self denial and self destruction; The Fragile, an album about self-realization, self-renewal, and humanism; and the little known Still about coping. Songs on With Teeth examine all of these issues with varying degrees of success.
For the Pretty Hate Machine fan, there’s the self-loathing, abusive, and Gary Numan-esque “Only” that – coincidentally or not so coincidentally – mirrors the plight of the central character from Fight Club by Reznor favorite author, Chuck Palahniuk. With the firing of his longtime manager, John Malm, Jr., some have suggested that “Only” is also a farewell to his past, in true Reznor style. He recorded similar songs when he experienced displeasure with former TVT label owner, Steve Gottlieb, and with former labelmate and best friend Marilyn Manson. Fans of The Fragile should enjoy “All the Love in the World,” “Every Day is Exactly the Same,” and “The Hand That Feeds.” Fans of the subdued and classically-based Still are offered “Right Where it Belongs.” As a bonus, for the true NIN afficionados, cheeky references to earlier works abound throughout the lyrics.
All in all, With Teeth is as controversial, innovative, and explosive as any and every other Nine Inch Nails release. The wait for the next album begins once again…