Nine Inch Nails

With Teeth (Interscope)

By Joe Gross for Statesman on May 8, 2005

The last time Trent Reznor, aka Nine Inch Nails, released an album of all-original material, it was the 20th century, and frankly, the album sounded about 100 years long.

With massive instrumental passages and plenty of mopey pianos, "The Fragile" (1999) was an exhausting double CD of Goth-prog-industro-tronica. With that album, Reznor aspired to a significance he didn't need. After all, he already had made industrial rock mainstream, scored a smash hit single ("Closer") off a best-selling album ("The Downward Spiral"), produced Marilyn Manson's breakthrough (1996's brilliantly named "Antichrist Superstar") and dated Courtney Love. Wasn't that enough?

But between then and now, something very odd happened: Johnny Cash turned Reznor's ballad "Hurt" into an emotionally devastating classic, complete with an extraordinary, haunting video. This seemed to both humble and soothe Reznor's not-insubstantial ego, and that -- coupled with a grim descent into drugs while holed up in New Orleans for a few years -- seems to have driven him back to first principles on "With Teeth." Once again, he's making big, nasty industrial rock for annoyed suburban teens. It's what Reznor was born to do, and it's what he does best.

Reznor even opened up the creative process to his fans, making the source tracks for the single "The Hand That Feeds" available on his Web site for anyone to remix. The results aren't on "With Teeth," but this seems a big psychological step for the notorious control freak.

This time around, he even followed a recent trend by hiring Dave Grohl to play drums.

This was a smart move. Between Foo Fighters albums, Grohl has become something of a hipster hired gun, juicing up albums from Queens of the Stone Age, Killing Joke and his own metal project, Probot. He does a brilliant job on "Teeth," hammering down like the annoyed teen he once was. Reznor backs him up, with totally old school industrial-disco synth roar, guitar moans and distorted vocals.

In fact, most of "Teeth" feels straight out of 1989, a watershed year for industrial rock. It was the year the genre's heavy hitters (Ministry, Front 242, Skinny Puppy ) started poking their heads out of goth night at dance clubs and into the mainstream. Reznor was the scene's big crossover artist, and his album "Pretty Heat Machine" (1989) found the modern rock radio it would take the others years, if ever, to locate. The furious "You Know Who You Are?," "Getting Smaller" and the rumbling "Love is not Enough" are NIN tunes of the purest vintage. "Every Day is Exactly the Same" finds him pillaging his New Order albums for the perfect melodic kiss, while "Only" shows these post-punk wannabes how to rock a punk-funk beat.

Sadly, he also shows them how not to write lyrics. From "Only": "Less concerned about fitting into the world/your world, that is/cuz it doesn't really matter no more." The whole thing's like this, but it just means Reznor's back to writing the way his core demographic thinks. Once again, Reznor knows who he is.

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