Nine Inch Nails
By David Raposa for Pitchfork Media on May 11, 2005
To some degree, Trent Reznor was a victim of his own success. As a fresh-faced misanthropic hottie screaming about god, money, and the two-backed beast over a 'roid-ragin' Tron soundtrack, he was exactly what the kids wanted. But when Reznor journeyed into the center of his sound and his soul, the kids decided to take a rain check, opting instead to get their fix of synthesized cathartic self-loathing from other sources. (Linkin Park, I think you might owe somebody a thank-you card; ask Reznor about the one he sent to Wax Trax.) In 1996, the dude was so money that an EP of Downward Spiral remixes went gold, while both NIN full-lengths were well on their way to multi-platinum status. But in 2004, a full-length remix album covering the entire NIN ouevre festered on the shelves of mall record stores, while his then most-recent studio LP (the double-your-pleasure doozy known as The Fragile) was shipping a measly one million copies.
Meanwhile, the Bennington-Shindoa think tank (and their many contemporaries) set both young pierced hearts and old moneyclips aflutter with their sexless, sample-soaked tunes of dismay and despair. Instead of "You bring me closer to God!", the kids were now screaming, "Shut up when I'm talking to you!", which is in line with "I'd rather die than give you control!", except Reznor's you is some disembodied existential thing, the stuff of stylized drama. Chester's you is someone he knows; this time, it's personal, and he wrote it down in his journal. In AABB form, no less. Yipee.
Reznor kicks off With Teeth with "All the Love in the World", and it seems as if he's gonna go spelunking up his colon one more time-- ninth-grade poetry in tow. You could read the track as a response to his fading celebrity in the wake of countless imitators' successes-- "No one's heard a single word I've said/ They don't sound as good outside my head". The track begins pensively, with a wet drum machine beat punctuated by some piano notes, and Reznor asking the question on no one's mind-- "Why do you get all the love in the world?" And then comes the disco break.
The beat locks down. The piano gets in line. Reznor returns to the titular question, this time in a falsetto. He screams back that line, call-and-response style, harmonizing with himself. A bass drum, tambourine, and backiong vocals hop on board. And then a bass line kicks in, and it's like he's dropping a mirror ball on Goth Night at Club Velvet, and all the Robert Smiths and Siouxie Siouxs in the crowd proceed to drop it like it's hot. "All the Love" has nothing on the porn-serious bump and grind of "Closer", but it's not trying to horn in on that action. For about 90 seconds, there's an epidemic of full-on Kool-and-the-Gang gang dance fever, and it sounds fantastic.
With Teeth takes a brief detour near the end into the sort of twinkling soundscaping that's perfect for staring off into space and forgetting the pains of quotidian torture, but for the most part, this album manages to flip the script on Reznor's recent MO. Instead of fronting like a more feminine Al Jourgenson-- hard, coarse, yet not totally abrasive-- Reznor comes across as the masculine yin to Shirley Manson's alluring yang: playful, coy, and with a flair for the dramatic. On "Only", Reznor speak-sings his way to each chorus, playfully talking about picking scabs and other sorts of self-castigating things. And, wow, what a ridiculous chorus-- "There is no fucking you/ There is only me." It's like he's singing to himself in the mirror, either restaging the Buffalo Bill scene from Silence of the Lambs, or the Jena Malone / Susan Sarandon hairbrush scene from Stepmom. Lead single "The Hand That Feeds" finds some on-the-one magic. "You Know What You Are" is in line with what typifies hyper-aggressive NIN teeth-gnashing, but it's accentuated with the unmistakable might of Dave Grohl on the traps, ripping off those machine-like sixteenth notes. "Getting Smaller", the poppiest track on the album, comes off as the faster cousin of Pixies' "Planet Of Sound" (with a Pere Ubu quote thrown in for you hipster cats). And let's not leave the MES nod from "With-ah Teeth-ah" unmentioned.
The album ends with the tortured Bowie-esque balladry of "Right Where It Belongs". On this track, Trent's piteous ruminations on what-the-hell-ever-- "What if all the world you think you know/ Is an elaborate dream?"-- are slyly undercut by an audience's cheers and applause. It's Reznor as a leather-clad Elton John, sitting at the piano to play "Candle in the Wind" one more time. However, instead of indulging in a pointless rehashing of past glories, With Teeth finds Trent Reznor moving forward by coming to terms with what he hath wrought. This head like a hole's come a long way, baby.