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ISSUE 118 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/13/2005

Nine Inch Nails bites back 'With Teeth'

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, May 13, 2005

By all accounts, Trent Reznor, the man who defines Nine Inch Nails, went through the most difficult years of his life following NIN’s tour in support of 1999’s The Fragile. He battled with alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and in the most literal sense of the phrase, hit rock bottom. ‘I was clearly trying to kill myself,’ Reznor admits in a reveling recent interview in “Spin” magazine.

Perhaps that’s why With Teeth, Nine Inch Nails’ first album in over five years, is such a powerful and emotive record. While The Fragile was, in its own right, a superb album, critics and fans alike felt it was bloated and contained filler material that was beneath an artist of Reznor’s caliber. Reznor’s lyrical credibility as well as his artistry was being called into question for the first time. Realistically, how unhappy could one man really be? When asked about his motivation going into the With Teeth sessions, Reznor said simply, “People need to believe I mean what I’m saying again."

And believe they shall. With Teeth isn’t just the best album Reznor has produced since his 1994 magnum opus, The Downward Spiral; it’s the most diverse, courageous, and catchy album of his career. Interestingly enough, With Teeth begins not with a “Mr. Self Destruct” style bang, but with the contemplative and piano driven whisper of “All the Love in the World,” a track where Reznor's characteristic scream is muted to a soft and melancholy falsetto. Fans of NIN’s more industrial side shouldn’t worry though – the majority of With Teeth bristles with the aggro-synth energy that made The Downward Spiral and Reznor’s 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, so enjoyable and accessible.

Thankfully, Reznor’s newfound sobriety hasn’t detracted from his unique and metaphor-laced songwriting skills. Tracks like “Every Day is Exactly the Same” and the almost-too-upbeat-for-NIN “Only” serve as welcome reminders of why NIN is considered such an influential and important group. The first half of With Teeth chugs along like an Abrams tank, reaching its heavy apex on the album’s moody title track, which prominently features the powerful drumming of Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Of the harder tracks on the album, the synth and guitar driven “Love is Not Enough” stands truest to the NIN sound, sending chills down the spine with Reznor’s haunting chorus: “The sooner we realize/We cover ourselves with lies/But underneath we’re not so tough/Love is not enough.”

It’s the last half of With Teeth, however, that contains the best work to date from Reznor. “Only,” the best and catchiest track on the album, bounces along on what can only be described as a disco-Goth beat. The chorus is simply irresistible, defying the notion that all of Reznor’s work must inherently be gloomy or aggressive. The influence of Depeche Mode and new wave pioneer Gary Numan is starkly evident throughout the later tracks, especially on the throbbing “Beside You in Time” and the slow burn dirge of “Sunspots.” Reznor pulls out all the stops as With Teeth draws to a close, infusing tracks like “Getting Smaller” with an energy that begs for the volume to be turned up to 11.

On With Teeth’s closing track, the melancholy “Right Where it Belongs,” Reznor pensively sings, “If you look at your reflection/is it all you wanted to be?/What if you could look right through the cracks/Would you find yourself/find yourself afraid to see?” With Teeth is an album that reflects the personal struggle and private hell that was Reznor’s past, and finds him coming through it all a more mature, stronger, and more accessible artist than ever before. Now, at 40 years of age, the man who is Nine Inch Nails sounds more like the iconic and brilliant genre-defining artist critics have lauded him as for the past decade. Through the crushing onslaught that is With Teeth, Trent Reznor has brought himself and Nine Inch Nails right back where they belong: at the creative forefront of alternative music.

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