Nine Inch Nails
By John Doran for Playlouder on May 4, 2005
It should be time to deliver the coup de grace to Trent Reznor. We should be circling his prone body clutching stiletto knives; eyeing up the disgustingly soft flesh at the base of his rib cage; looking dispassionately at his bare throat. There's plastic sheeting on the floor; no-one knows we're here; no-one would blame us. It's what the none-too-silent perpetrator of Angst Music for Angst People has always wanted isn't it? Come on! Let's put him out of our misery. Let's hook him through his ankles, pierce his neck and let his blood drain slowly out, Halal style. It's cleaner that way. Well, for starters, it would have helped if he had produced the stinker of an album that everyone was expecting.
It's a good ten years since Reznor produced his bona fide masterpiece 'The Downward Spiral', and ever since then, the world's most successful proponent of industrial rock has been living a self-fulfilling prophecy of drink, cocaine and mental disintegration. 'The Fragile' tested the patience of all but his hardiest fans, while one time protégée, Brian 'Marilyn' Warner went on to distil commercialised teen angst into more digestible, more exciting to look at chunks. It seemed Reznor had reached an impasse of sorts. Either he could carry on down the road of self-immolation and risk sinking into sonic self parody and illness or death, or kick a pair of simians and several chips off of his back and shoulders and face the possibility of losing his muse. He is clean now (a process that started four years ago after his best friend got shot dead) and it is undeniable that this life style change has had a massive effect on his music.
In short, 'With Teeth' is pretty chipper. The opening track 'All The Love In The World' was, presumably, designed to blindside critics into saying: "What the fuck?"
What the fuck? It starts off as a glitchcore, tech step minimalist electronica ballad sounding musically somewhere between early Autechre and stripped down Squarepusher. And this is before a sumptuous piano breakdown drags Trent spinning, jiving, rotating, pushing it, doing it, you know, you know, like a sex machine. Doing it to death. And as a gospel chorus of about twenty Reznors reiterate the titular question you realise that you're listening something that sounds closer to Primal Scream than Skinny Puppy. 'Only' is a massive single hit waiting in the wings and bizarrely, if you ignore the dour lyrics, could have been released on DFA. There's the bouncing punk funk, Radio 4 bassline and electroclash Bontempi organ part. And it's all serotonin, sweat drenched mayhem and booties wigglin' and hips a jigglin'.
Of course it's not all happy happy joy joy and 'You Know What You Are?' is classic 'The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste'-era Ministry replete with propulsive tribal clattering courtesy of Dave Grohl, who plays on about half of the album.
The title track is a humongous Tubeway Army-style stomper based around a deceptively simple hissing and fizzing guitar hook that peddles deferred gratification rather than the clumsy wall of overdriven guitars that most also ran industrial groups would have added. On the whole this album sees Reznor reoccupying the familiar but satisfying ground part way between 'The Downward Spiral' and 'Pretty Hate Machine'.
There are, as always, some minor grumbles. Why was 'The Hand That Feeds' chosen as a comeback single? It's one of the dullest tracks on the album. And one or two tracks such as 'The Collector' are blatant filler and should have been consigned to the bin or the b-side. Also, the 12-step zeal that has been applied to his musical vision hasn't made it as far as his limited lyrical palette. It's all still nebulous imagery about going to hell and blow jobs as a metaphor for social control. But still, representing a genre of music that should, by rights, be dead in the water, Reznor has turned in a lean, aggressive and thoroughly relevant album. So if you really need to spend any money on an album where a multi-millionaire relentlessly tells you how remorselessly shit life is; make it this one.