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Nine Inch Nails
With Teeth
Interscope Records

We've all seen the incredible patience a serious fan will exhibit in order to fully enjoy their favorite piece of art. For example, the average Star Wars fan had to wait sixteen years before the release of Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Fortunately, Nine Inch Nails fans have not had to wait that long, but they did have to wait 2,052 days - that is, almost six years- before Trent Reznor offered up his most recent effort, With Teeth.

Six years, as anyone in the music business will tell you, is an eternity. Wait that long, and anything can happen - and it usually does. Most conglomerate music industry insiders will encourage a turnaround of no more than two or three years between album releases, but this is far from the model of Nine Inch Nails. It is no secret that Reznor has never been one to release albums simply for the sake of having something to sell. This personality quirk has driven more than one of his business associates mad with frustration. Though sometimes a control freak, occasionally a victim of unforeseen circumstances, and often a perfectionist to a fault, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Reznor's work never fails to shake the foundation of the music industry.

A careful search reveals some of the reasons for Reznor's wide appeal. Central is his ability to write a good pop song. He is a self-proclaimed pop artist and a damned good one at finding the Holy Grail in pop music; a good hook and a catchy chorus. Look a little deeper and you will notice his ability to master any songwriting style he chooses to take on, jumping comfortably from any point of view that suits his need as a storyteller, be it first, second, or third person, and like David Bowie, he can easily wear different genres of music (rock, metal, punk, hip hop, and industrial) comfortably. Add to the mix Reznor's mastery of music engineering, production, and his ease with learning and assimilating new technologies, and it is no wonder he is often afforded the same respect among engineers and music artists that visual effects specialists offer George Lucas in the film industry. Over the past seventeen years and nineteen releases (including all singles, EPs and limited edition releases) Reznor has taken the punk DIY aesthetic and pushed the edge of the envelope. His classically trained ear and concert piano performance skills have come in handy when crafting conceptual albums that echo many of the strongest acoustical themes of Beethoven, Bach and Wagner, delve into the philosophies of Nietzsche and Chomsky, and the psychologies of Freud and Jung.

In an industry that is increasingly under the control of corporate conglomerates that expect profitable statements every quarter and who are facing competition from an ever expanding spectrum of entertainment choices, it is artists like Reznor who perhaps shoulder the most pressure. Each of his releases is expected, nay, demanded, to top the last in terms of innovation, spectacle, insight, and profit. With these pressures and his ongoing battles with inner demons, and an increasing willingness to express his vocal distaste with the current U.S. political environment that Reznor confronts us with the short, beautiful and at times brutal With Teeth.

To understand With Teeth from an artistic point one may begin by comparing it to his last release The Fragile. On the surface the albums are a sharp contrast. One is a magnum opus concept album of 33 tracks, the other a 13 track collection that explores a multitude of ideas, but without encompassing any one concept as its central story. One was recorded and released through Nothing Records while Reznor was still a primary owner; the other was only released through Interscope Records after Reznor relinquished his stake in the fledgling record imprint. The Fragile was written, recorded and performed with a comfortable supporting cast who had worked with him for many years. Many of those contributors left the NIN camp before the recording of With Teeth began. Gone were the contributions of Danny Lohner, Charlie Clouser, and Robin Finck, who have all gone on to their own productive careers: Lohner as an in demand producer and guitar player, Clouser as a successful television composer for such hits as Las Vegas and NUMB3RS and Robin Finck as a guitar player for productions such as Cirque Du Soleil. New contributors were sought for With Teeth. New contributors include the punchy drums of Dave Grohl and the turntables of Alien Tom.

Reznor's point of view, or rather his willingness to open himself up to us, is different as well. The songs of With Teeth were written by a man who is on the cusp of 40 and finds himself in transition: in life, politics, business and sound. With Teeth is a scaled back, not-so-subtle exploration of Reznor's punk, soul, and hip-hop roots. Even while employing every technical device known to sound recording, Reznor's songs come off sounding like bare bones pleas of sincerity. At times ugly, but completely honest.

The title suggests a primal form of Nine Inch Nails that never quite emerges and while there are glimmers of aggression and intensity in the compelling hook-filled "The Hand that Feeds" and the scathing NIN inside joke (and Land of Rape and Honey-era Ministry nod) with "You Know What You Are", the album lyrics are rather generalized about exactly what irks Reznor so.

The rest of his albums had a more easily detectable motif that ran through each of them. Pretty Hate Machine was primarily a personal memoir; Broken, a personal and societal colonic; The Downward Spiral, an introspection in the mechanisms of human self denial and self destruction; The Fragile, an album about self-realization, self-renewal, and humanism; and the little known Still about coping. Songs on With Teeth examine all of these issues with varying degrees of success.

For the Pretty Hate Machine fan there is the self-loathing, abusive and Gary Numan-esque "Only" that also coincidentally - or not so coincidentally - mirrors the plight of the central character from "Fight Club" by Reznor favorite author, Chuck Palahniuk. With the firing of his longtime manager John Malm, Jr., some have suggested that "Only" is farewell to his past in true Reznor style. He did similar things when he experienced displeasure with former TVT label owner Steve Gottlieb, and with former label mate and best friend Marilyn Manson. Fans of The Fragile should enjoy "All the Love in the World", "Every Day is Exactly the Same", and "The Hand That Feeds". Fans of the subdued and classically based Still are offered "Right Where it Belongs". As a bonus, for the true NIN aficionados, cheeky references to earlier works abound.

The innovations on this album that separate it from his earlier releases are primarily concerned with the packaging. Reznor decided boldly not to include any liner notes in the packaging with respect to lyrics, instead offering them in small and large format .PDF files, unlocked by a valid CD Key pressed into each record. Another innovation was the type of formats offered. Reznor continues his practice of offering his records in the vinyl format for DJ and analog fans, CD, and a relatively new dual disc format, that is CD playable on one side of the disc and DVD playable on the other.

This new format allows artists to value-add their albums as film companies have been doing for years now with their DVD products, without adding expense to the manufacture of the product by adding multiple discs, or even more booklet packaging. Unfortunately this feature was not exploited to its fullest. It included a navigable Nine Inch Nails body of work that includes audio and visual samples where appropriate for every NIN release since their departure from TVT records and a music video for the first released single "The Hand that Feeds". While useful for the new fan exposed to Nine Inch Nails for the first time, it doesn't seem like anything the devoted fan didn't already know forward and backward. An exciting and more useful addition would have been a duplicate entry of the album credits, lyrics, links to contributors and manufacturers and perhaps even blog entries that Reznor made on his website prior to the release of With Teeth. Additionally, the album is provided on the Dual DVD - A side in both surround sound 5.1 (as was his The Downward Spiral Deluxe Edition released late last year) and in the more standard stereo 2.0 which is a nice plus for the high-end audio component user.

All in all, With Teeth is as controversial, innovative and explosive as any and every other Nine Inch Nails release that should be enjoyed by even the most fervent NIN fan.

The wait begins once again...


Track Listing:

1. All The Love In The World
2. You Know What You Are?
3. The Collector
4. The Hand That Feeds
5. Love Is Not Enough
6. Every Day Is Exactly The Same
7. With Teeth
8. Only
9. Getting Smaller
10. Sunspots
11. The Line Begins To Blur
12. Beside You In Time
13. Right Where It Belongs

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