Out of the void

With Teeth marks an evolution of NIN

By Josh Bashara for The Gateway on April 29, 2005

It's times like this that I feel like it's OK to have faith in rock & roll again.

While cookie-cutter entertainers like 50 Cent and Gwen Stefani top the charts, people out there are still making real music. They don't care about sales ranks and merchandising possibilities - they create art because they want to, because they need to.

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is one of those few. The ex-band nerd who started playing with synthesizers in high school would later be crowned as our generation's prince of darkness; an angst-ridden boy in a man's body who's own worst enemy is himself.

Reznor's new album, With Teeth, hits stores on May 3. Just a couple weeks later, he will turn 40. The new album, at its core, is the product of a mid-life crisis. And that what makes it extraordinary.

More than five years in the making, With Teeth abandons the conceptual style of 1999's The Fragile and pays homage to The Downward Spiral-era of self-torment. Only this time around, things are a little more succinct, and Reznor seems content in knowing that there won't always be answers to the questions he asks.

Devoid of any instrumental tracks, With Teeth features nearly one hour of distinctive, lyric-driven songs that are strikingly different from his earlier work, although still instantly recognizable as pure NIN.

Opening with the spooky-yet-upbeat, keyboard-driven "All The Love In The World," Reznor makes it clear to us that he's not out to exorcise any demons this time around, but maybe just poke fun a bit at the human condition.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters steps in on drums to give a more organic feel to several songs on the album than any other NIN release of the past. "The Collector" and "Getting Smaller" are examples of guitar-heavy, live drum rock jams that discard nearly every element of the industrial genre.

Don't pull out your bottle of makeup remover just yet, though - there are still plenty of the dark, tried-and-true NIN algorithms floating just beneath the surface. On "Love Is Not Enough," Reznor wails out "We cover ourselves in lies, but underneath we're not so tough/ And love is not enough" over a churning atmosphere of hollow percussion and buzzing synth-guitar.

One of the most unique songs on the album, "Sunspots" offers a paradoxical blend of prog rock and Reznor's newfound joy in reviving the retro sound of light and airy synth-pop cuts. Even more bizarre (but in a kick-ass sort of way) is the disco-beat-ridden "Only," which one can assume Reznor intended to have the same tongue-in-cheek posture as 1994's club smash, "Closer."

The album's moments of glory are the final two tracks, "Beside You In Time" and "Right Where It Belongs."

"Beside You" is an simple but richly-layered reminder of the music that defines NIN. Insanely-processes guitar loops coupled with epic-sounding, colossal waves of sampled sound that draw a line in the sand, daring any band in the past, present and future to even try to emulate Reznor's composing genius. It's the only song on the entire album where the lyrics take a backseat to the music; a well-deserved vanity track that serves as a reminder to why you started listening to NIN in the first place.

Reznor's obligatory album-ending slow song on With Teeth takes its rightful place alongside his past collection of down-tempo heartstring-pullers like "Hurt" and "Something I Can Never Have." A reserved piano-driven ballad, "Right Where It Belongs" is a brutally honest cry of helplessness.

He asks: "What if everything around you isn't quite what it seems/ What if all the world you think you know is an elaborate dream?"

His vocals rise to a rich swell as the piano is joined by a buzzing melody of distortion. A sample of crowd noise begins, probably from the Fragility 2.0 tour.

"And if you look at your reflection, is it all you want to be/ What if you could look right through the cracks/ Would you find yourself, find yourself afraid to see?"

Reznor is coming to terms with all the wickedness that's surrounded him over the last decade: drugs, booze, writer's block, diminished stardom and a greedy ex-manager who left him for broke.

He's still fighting against a perpetual current of pain, but at almost 40, he's learned to deal with it more elegantly. And if With Teeth is any indication of what's to come, Reznor's fans will have a lot to look forward to as they grow into adulthood alongside him.


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