When Trent Reznor emerged out of the underground industrial scene in his Nine Inch Nails (NIN) moniker in 1989, no one would believe that it would be him, among bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy that would take the genre to the mainstream. Reznor did with his debut album Pretty Hate Machine as took a full two years for the album to go platinum. After a stop-gap EP in Broken in 1992, Reznor battled TVT Records for his own freedom in which he was bought by Interscope as he and manager John Malm Jr. received their own label, Nothing Records. Reznor then achieved superstardom in 1994 with the release of The Downward Spiral that took industrial music to the world of art rock but also the mainstream.
By 1996, Reznor had everything that any rock star wanted, including problems. After working on Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar, everything fell apart as Reznor went into psychotherapy and mourned the death of the grandmother who raised him as a child. Reznor then went into hiding in his Nothing Studios in New Orleans to work on his next album, the result was 1999's epic double-album The Fragile. Despite its sonic, dense sound that was praised by fans, some critics found the album to be bloated in the wake of teen-pop and rap-metal as the album was considered a commercial disappointment. When the tour came in 2000, Reznor barely survived financially and physically as he continued into his emotional downward spiral. After extensive work on a DVD and live album for And All That Could Have Been along with the accompanying Internet-release EP Still, Reznor tried to move forward.
In the years since The Fragile, Reznor lost a friend and was on the verge of losing himself as the Tapeworm side project he worked on with NIN associates Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser along with 12 Rounds' Atticus Ross and Tool's Maynard James Keenan fell apart. Lohner and Clouser eventually left the fold as Reznor was dealing more with his own emotional problems driven by substance abuse and the financial troubles that led to him fighting his manager in a lawsuit that is still going on over the future of NIN. Now, more than five years since the release of The Fragile, Reznor finally returns reinvigorated and reborn with the new album With Teeth.
With Teeth in some ways is a return to the era of Pretty Hate Machine as Reznor runs away from the dense arrangements of The Fragile for something more accessible and song-oriented. While many of the lyrical themes from previous albums are heard again, this time around, Reznor seems more intent in dealing with them as well as find a sense of humor. At the same time, there's more angst in Reznor, even in his vocals as he sings with more confidence than he did in The Fragile. Musically, the album is more diverse but less industrial than previous efforts as some tracks lean more towards hard rock with help from Foo Fighters leader and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. Others show Reznor's approach to pop music as he leans to dance textures and old-school synth-pop along with elements of shoegaze, courtesy of longtime co-producer Alan Moulder. The result is an album that oozes in its rage and despair while playing itself in a seductive way. While not as groundbreaking or complex as previous albums, With Teeth is a sign that Trent Reznor is back but with a vengeance as he takes a huge bite out of the current music scene.
The album begins with the smooth, trip-hop sounds of All The Love In The World with its sputtering, bass-throbbing beats as Reznor sings the song with his crooning vocals filled with falsetto as he sings of alienation. Accompanied by a piano melody in the background for the chorus of "Why do you get all the love in the world", Reznor is trying to ask for why he is alone as he brings a wonderfully rich, piano accompaniment to the song's multi-layered structure of distorted, trip-hop beats, classical, and club montages as the song's beats get more rhythmic towards the end along with a guitar drone and distorted rock textures. You Know Who You Are? is a straight-ahead rocker with frenetic, machine-gun like drum fills from Dave Grohl as all hell breaks loose. Reznor gets into growling mode as the anger of NIN is still there with a ferocity that hasn't been heard since the days of Broken as he is accompanied by distorted guitars and electronic backgrounds. Then comes that knock-out punch in the song's chorus line of "Don't you f*cking know what you are" as the guitars, pianos, and drums just go into full blast. An uncompromising rocker that is true rock in its loudest form but with a knockout punch deserving of Raging Bull.
The Collector starts off with Grohl pounding those drums with the power of Led Zeppelin that is followed by a thunderous bass line as Reznor goes into the role of a collector with his growling vocals that is followed by a wailing chorus of "I'm trying to fit it all inside/I'm trying to open my mouth wide/I'm trying not to choke/And swallow it out, swallow it out, swallow it out, swallow it out". With Reznor describing himself as a disease that won't stop, the drive of Reznor and Alan Moulder's layered production of guitars, bass, and drums along with piano arpeggios shows the unique detailed layer of Reznor's art-rock structure. The album's first single is the anti-Bush The Hand That Feeds with its throbbing, programmed synthesizers and electronic textures from Atticus Ross along with Jerome Dillon's frenetic, pounding drums as Reznor goes on the attack on Bush with his lyrics as he is accompanied by growling guitars and bass. With its melodic rhythms and menacing noises shows that Reznor is not backing down and is ready for a fight.
Love Is Not Enough starts with echo-laden, electronic beats that are followed by pounding, bass drums from Grohl as the track has a smooth, growling club tone with Reznor's eerie vocals as he sings lyrics of fragility in the chorus that is followed by growling guitar riffs and menacing beats from Grohl along with a wailing synthesizer from Atticus Ross. Here, Reznor reveals his own corrupted state and alienation where he goes into the dark side as the song seems to target his ex-manager. Every Day Is Exactly The Same is more of a smoother, art-rock song with shimmering synthesizers and an opening, piano track that is followed by a menacing, electronic textures of beats and synthesizers as Reznor now ponders his own futures and the banality of the world as the track just seduces itself with its trance-like synthesizers and Reznor's vocals. With the wonderful production of Reznor and Moulder, the song is pure art-rock with its despairing lyrics and instrumentation.
The title track of With Teeth is a track that describes itself with its harrowing beats from Jerome Dillon and whip-pounding bass lines. With the song's grinding guitars, Reznor goes into his sadomasochistic role with his eerie lyrics of sex and his growling vocals of "With teeth" as Dillon's drums just get menacing with each beat in its slow, punishing delivery as it breaks midway into piano melodies for its abstract structure. The intended second single is the synth-pop laden Only with its rhythmic, disco-like beats and Fade To Grey like synthesizer drone and piano arpeggios as Reznor goes into a spoken-word vocal delivery accompanied by funk-drenched bass lines. Reznor sings lyrics filled with dark humor as he parodies himself a bit along with his own dark persona as he sings in the chorus, "There is no you/There is only me/There is no you/There is only me/There is no f*cking you/There is only me/There is no f*cking you/There is only me" with Grohl accompanying on drums along with distorted, noisy guitars.
Getting Smaller is a return to fast, loud rock with Grohl's menacing, pulsating drums, and raging guitars that doesn't stop as Reznor gets to play dangerous and no one is safe. Reznor channels the manic energy of the late Ian Curtis while delivering some punishing vocals and lyrics that as if it came out of the film Fight Club with lyrics like "I think I'm losing my grip/But I can still make a fist/You know I still got my one good arm/But I can beat... I can beat myself up" as he goes into the chorus where he delivers another knockout punch. Marilyn Manson, Fred Durst, Courtney Love, and everyone else who has issues, watch out, Reznor is ready for a fight.
Sunspots is a slow but seductive track with its thundering bass lines and beats as Reznor gets into his despaired, sexually-driven mind as he is accompanied by menacing beats and grinding guitars and bass tracks. With Reznor now confronting his own troubles, he seems to desperate in finding hope since the song's title shows his yearning for hope as he is still engrossed in the song's wailing distortion of guitars, drums, and synthesizers with its momentum that builds into . The Line Begins To Blur arrives with its distorted beats and bass lines as Reznor's echoing vocals are in tact through his nightmares as he growls for help. With its shimmering guitars and synthesizers, Reznor's vocals get clearer as he descends into his own dark mind with the guitars getting more and more trance-like in the song's chorus along with Grohl's live drum delivery.
Now we come to the nocturnal, shoegaze of Beside You In Time as the guitars ascend into a wavy loop with momentum-building beats and synthesizers from Atticus Ross as Reznor begins to sing his own lyrics of disintegration with his soft, crooning vocals as the song's momentum builds as Reznor gets more and more entranced with his nocturnal vocals. Once Reznor stops singing, the track's momentum becomes more menacing with its guitars as Dave Grohl arrives for one final beat down with his violent, menacing delivery on the drums as Reznor goes into a wavy, dreamy rage with his guitars.
The album's somber closer is the piano-ballad of Right Where It Belongs as Reznor plays a melancholic, frail piano melody that accompanies a noisy, synthesizer melody in the background. Reznor sings his despairing lyrics of death through far away vocals with lyrics that describes himself in a cage of safety that is filled with corruption of "What if everything around you/Isn't quite as it seems/What if all the world you think you know/Is an elaborate dream/When you look at your own reflection". With Reznor channeling the lyrics from his own dark fantasy, his vocals become clearer as he seems to live in his a visual fantasy with crowd noises in the background. There, Reznor is facing his own mortality with his fears and dreams as he plays a modern-day Sam Lowry desperate for his own sense of world away from reality as he croons in falsetto with his piano.
In various imported releases and on vinyl, With Teeth features a stripped-down version of Right Where It Belongs and a non-LP track called Home that appears in several vinyl single versions of The Hand That Feeds. Unfortunately like the domestic releases, the albums don't include any kind of lyrical booklet of packaging since Reznor feels the days of CDs and albums are definitely over. This is a huge complaint for myself and many fans who love to look into the lyrical booklet to read lyrics and check for credits that can be seen at the band's official website but through a PDF file that isn't easy to download.
While it's doesn't have the art-rock complexity of The Fragile or the rage of Broken and The Downward Spiral, With Teeth is still a great album from Trent Reznor and company. While it's superior to The Fragile in terms of memorable songs, it's nowhere near the brilliance of Broken or The Downward Spiral. Still, the album has a lot to offer for those who want to dance or those who want to rock. It's an album that explores the inner, troubled mind of one of the 1990s' most gifted visionaries as he is trying to move on from failure and near-death experiences. May not be the album of 2005 but it's still worthy to be among the best.
Pretty Hate Machine/Broken Era (1989-1992): halo 1 - halo 2 - halo 3 - halo 4 - halo 5 - halo 6
The Downward Spiral Era (1994-1997): halo 7 - halo 8 - halo 8 DE - halo 9 - halo 10 - halo 11 - halo 12
The Fragile Era (1999-2002): halo 13 - halo 14 - halo 15.1 - halo 15.2 - halo 15.3 - halo 16 - halo 17 DE - halo 17 DVD
With Teeth/Year Zero Era (2005-2007): halo 18 - halo 20 - halo 21 - halo 22 - halo 23 - halo 24 - halo 25
Ghosts I-IV/The Slip Era (2008): halo 26 - halo 27
Miscellaneous/Soundtracks: (The Crow) - (Natural Born Killers) - (Lost Highway) - (Tomb Raider) - (The Limitless Potential) - (Strobe Light)
Promos: (seed 1) - (seed 2) - (seed 3) - (seed 4) - (seed 5) - (seed 6)
Live Shows: (NIN/Bauhaus/TV on the Radio-6/7/06 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater) - (NIN/Deerhunter-8/13/08 Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena) - (NIN/Jane's Addiction/Street Sweeper Social Club-5/10/09 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater)