NIN: With Teeth

4 stars out of 5

By Matt Schild for Aversion.com on May 3, 2005

The terms “healthy psychology” and “Nine Inch Nails” don’t usually come up in the same conversation, let alone the same sentence. While band principal Trent Reznor hasn’t conquered his demons – or at least keeps them bottled up for inspiration – With Teeth shows he’s been, to snatch a phrase from crappy therapists, making real progress.

Don’t sweat it. If With Teeth is any measure, he’s still keeping psycho-pharmaceutical companies, an overworked psychologists or two and six or seven support groups in business. This time out, he’s rebounded from the nailed-to-the-floor depression and angst that fueled his forays into the shifting, out-of-focus experiments of 1999’s The Fragile (Interscope). Instead of the sprawling, oftentimes unfocused pastiche of post-industrial layering and electroburn, With Teeth is about as accessible as the first half of The Downward Spiral – meaning, essentially, Reznor’s put a few issues behind him, and is ready to start connecting with the world around him.

Perhaps With Teeth’s more user-friendly side stems from Reznor’s self-restraint and editing: Where his last effort boasted an expansive, two-disc, 23 track-listing, With Teeth pares things back to a manageable 13 cuts, amputating the extended, ambient instrumentals and textured segues for Nine Inch Nails’ most song-based album since Broken. Once again relying upon the pop structures – more or less, at least – that made Pretty Hate Machine so revolutionary, Reznor pulls his act from the manic fringes which made his last was so easy to ignore.

Lead single “Bite the Hand that Feeds” is as straightforward as Reznor has been since his days as an unknown programmer. Although heavily distorted guitars garnish the song with industrial-strength stomping power, they cloak a snarky hook that plays up the track’s programming and vocals. It’s louder and dirtier than anything on Pretty Hate Machine, but it comes from the same space. “Only” plops shivering programming on top of a bass line that’s simultaneously funky and mechanical, while “All the Love in the World” is propelled by a rainstorm of spastic snare beats, like valium-addicted breakbeats; both are destined for remix/dance floor heaven. Even when Reznor gets a bit more emotions, as in “Love is Not Enough,” with grinding guitars filled with cathartic explosions of noise, or “Every Day is Exactly the Same,” with its wide-swing dynamics, it doesn’t feel as if he’s nursing the ruins of his nineteenth nervous breakdown as much as using his heart of darkness as songwriting inspiration.

While it certainly isn’t the best Nine Inch Nails album, With Teeth may be the band’s definitive work. Juggling the textures and layers of the act’s previous two records while maintaining the crisp accessibility of Reznor’s early work, With Teeth is a comfortable middle ground between Nine Inch Nails’ extremes. It doesn’t yield the unforgettable hooks of “Head Like a Hole” or “Sin,” nor does it spin off into the grips of depression of “Hurt,” a friendly medium is a welcome return from The Fraglie’s descent into abstract insanity.

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