Reznor's 'Teeth' has just the right bite
By Malcolm Mayhew for Star-Telegram on May 3, 2005
Sooner or later, your favorite lead singer for your favorite band will want to go solo. Or they'll begin to "experiment," and we all know what that spells: d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r. Or, maybe they'll just break up, leaving you hanging like a soap opera cliffhanger. You can't depend on anyone in this industry.
Except maybe Trent Reznor. Since the late '80s, Reznor -- the leading light behind Nine Inch Nails -- has terrorized and titillated pop music with sonic rampages that have been both surprisingly popular and fiercely creative. Over the course of a career in which his influence has outweighed his productivity (he only releases a new album once every five years), the Cleveland-born[sic] musician/producer/singer has managed to turn his anger, dissatisfaction with life, loneliness and scars into piles of gold, at the same time bringing industrial music to the mainstream and even turning the head of Johnny Cash; the country legend did a gruesomely beautiful cover of one of NIN's most dire songs, Hurt.
While he slightly toned down his last album, 1999's The Fragile, he never abandoned the sound or style that gave him his start. On his fourth studio record, With Teeth (in stores today), Reznor actually goes back from where he came, revisiting the relative simplicity -- and abrasiveness -- of his 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine. "It looks as though the past is here to stay," he sings on the opening song, All the Love in the World, as if he's saying "so what?" to doing what he usually does.
This is why you can depend on Reznor, though. Still tortured by the nuances of everyday life, he lashes out at everyone and anyone and no one in particular, making his qualms universal. He is still very much the quiet kid in the corner who releases his rage through artistic means but he's also just a regular guy who's ticked off.
As opposed to his prior records, which he usually recorded with drum machines and other cold-hearted contraptions, With Teeth was hammered out partially by actual musicians, including Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. This gives it more of a live feel, more bite. The Collector hits especially hard, as does Love Is Not Enough. The single The Hand That Feeds, however, is surprisingly tame; it's the record's only throwaway.
Deep into Teeth, as on Sunspots and The Line Begins to Blur, Reznor wanders into lush territory, nicely balancing his loves of noise and silence.
Piano plays an important role here, anchoring or lying beneath some of With Teeth's best songs. On You Know Who You Are?, subtle piano notes melt into a drumline that sounds like a marching band on the run, creating both a tense and pretty melody. Elsewhere, the piano is the primary instrument, as on the closing Right Where It Belongs, wherein Reznor whispers, "See the animal in his cage? Are you sure what side you're on?"
Reznor hasn't changed one bit; thanks, man.
Nine Inch Nails