7 out of 10
By Mike Sterry for NME on April 20, 2005
Yes, For a while Fred Durst was your Jesus, the frat-boy hysterics of Jackass were the pinnacle of your comedy and nothing could beat a night in with a few tins, a crumpled baggie of oregano and Tony Hawk.
You may have even owned a real skateboard (since pawned, a casualty to your fashion budget). You certainly owned a copy of ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water’ (since fallen behind the stereo). If this wasn’t you, then we can but apologise but for a time in 2000 nu-metal was, well, cool. At least if we are to believe sales figures, or the proliferation of be-hood’ied mini-maggots across town centers to be a solid determinant of ‘cool’.
Now, we were fooled too. We’d occasionally print things like: ‘Korn blow the opposition to atoms’ and how Slipknot’s ‘Iowa’ was the album of 2001 most likely to ‘restore your faith in humanity’, rather than staring flatly that the credibility – bankrupt Slipknot were a joke taken one pickled goat’s head too far. Faced with the terror of Staind and Puddle of Mudd in the charts, it was hard to avoid the fact that almost overnight, the misery and misogyny of nu-metal had broken the mainstream. But who to blame?
Undeniably, one of the central architects of this boom in gloom was Nine Inch Nails’ multi-instrumental demagogue – cum –producer Trent Reznor, or ‘he who bears a striking resemblance to a smudge- nosed Owen Wilson were he to own a fetish club’. Of course, his grim industrial soundscapes were continent apart from the ass-spanking thuggery of sports metal, but is was the quadruple-platinum ‘The Downward Spiral’, along with his work with Marilyn Manson on ‘Antichrist Superstar’, that got the ball rolling for heavy music’s gradual renaissance.
We last heard from Reznor (remix albums and soundtrack work notwithstanding) in 1999 with the release of ‘The Fragile’, which despite its overblown arrogance of it’s master was still a gross commercial success.
A dreaded double-LP, it was an album borne of the stinking self-loathing and ponderous introspection that goes hand-in-hand with substance with substance abuse. Consequently, it was shit. Comparable to a Stephen King novel, it’s vast, unparalleled sonic meandering was only saved by the occasional punctuation of extremely taut Goth-pop (see ‘Starfuckers Inc’).
‘With Teeth’, thankfully, is nothing like it. It’s the album that’s seen Reznor commit many judicious and long-overdue acts of excision, both creatively and within his private life. Left both physically and spiritually ravaged after the excesses of touring ‘The Fragile’, Reznor found himself, as many had before him, unable to go on. It was a simple case of out with the drugs and alcohol, and with the therapy. ‘With Teeth’ is the album after the exorcism.
Other people have always been secondary concerns in the NIN blueprint, and with the firing of long-time members Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser and hiring of Marilyn Manson’s old bass player, Jeordie White (formerly know as Twiggy Ramirez) and the Icarus Line’s guitarist Aaron North for his live band, you get the feeling that Reznor rarely values his collaborators above the role of mere ‘helpers’ (Dr Dre was kindly allowed to assist in the mixing of ‘The Downward Spiral’).
Nine Inch Nails has always been the Trent Reznor Show. But if anything’s an indication of Reznor’s revitalized sensibility, it’s the appearance of ‘With Teeth”s high-profile helper, sticks-slut for-hire Dave Grohl, who adds noticeable bombast to several tracks. Pity regular drummer/collaborator Jerome Dillon though, who has to contest with both Grohl and the drum machine for Reznor’s favours.
So, shorn of his addiction’s Reznor promised and album that was light on the instrumental ephemera that characterized his previous work, and instead heavy on melody, structure and convention. And it looks like that’s what we’ve got. It is, shudder to think, Nine Inch Nails’ pop album. Or at least, Reznor is returning to the more song-orientated territory of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’. Now, Mr Reznor has always been a deft hand at this populist music malarkey, he just never liked to admit it. ‘Sin’, ‘Closer’, and ‘The Perfect Drug’ are all deliciously deviant inversions of the pop song, to the extent that you could innocently drop ‘The Perfect Drug’ at a Year Seven dico and no-one would be the wiser (perhaps).
But look at the treats on display here. Opener ‘All The Love In The World’ is one of two songs form ‘With Teeth’ to bear a slight resemblance to Radiohead’s ‘Everything in it’s right place’ (the second one being the aptly, somewhat cheekily named ‘Right Where It Belongs’).’Where do you get all the love in the world?’ Reznor questions while juddering, low-key synth beats pulse beneath a flat piano riff before the whole affair erupts into typical NIN sturm un drang. But the sonic temerity of it’s opening proves something of a red herring: ‘With Teeth’ is a loud record. Because BOOM! – track two- ‘you Know Who You Are?’ is all searing drums and angle grinder synth from the get-go, where Mr Reznor repeatedly prits his second question of the evening: ‘don’t you fucking know what you are?’ Let’s not be coy; you have to be a fan of pithy rhyming couplets, idiotic rhetorical questions and self-aggrandising statements such as ‘I believe I can see the future/Because I repeat the same routine’ to really dig Reznor’s lyrics. He is not the brooding poet of the darkened soul as some – Tori Amos included – claim him to be. It took the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, to truly infuse a NIN song with meaning and it’s telling that Reznor has admitted to feeling somewhat violated by Cash’s interpretation of ‘Hurt’. Occasionally, as they did on ‘Closer’, the unsophisticated nature of Reznor’s lyrics work to their advantage; his primal insistance does have the ability to hypnotise, as on the first single ‘The Hand That Feeds’ – NIN’s attempt at the accessible stadium anthem – which ends up sounding a bit like Bono in bondage. This happens to be a good thing, if rather disconcerting image.
But accessibility is key here, and it’s something that may well very well be alienate those who prefer Reznor at his more obtuse.
The bristling ‘Getting Smaller’ is Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘Go With The Flow’ as heard by Charlie Manson, While the blood-curdling electro-pop of ‘Only’ is perhaps ‘With Teeth’s most bizarre offering, doubtless coming soon to a Soulwax mix album near you. And then there’s the final track, the slow burner ‘Right Where It Belongs’, gorgeous piano-led dirge that soothes away much of the earlier fury, even when Reznor introduces the sounds of an appreciative audience (just in case you didn’t realize how loved NIN are).
He needn’t fret. A violent, sumptuous work, ‘With Teeth’ may cause some grumbling among his more ardent tin-eared fans, but this is as coherent and visionary as Trent Reznor has been in years. (7.)
Along with the review there are mini reviews for:
Pretty Hate Machine – (9)
Broken ep – (7)
The Downward Spiral – (8)
Further Down The Spiral – (7)
The Fragile – (5)
Things Falling Apart – (4)
Transcription note: All typos and factual errors are on the journalists fault – not my typing!
Transcribed by Darryl Steventon