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,
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
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
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
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...
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
9. Getting Smaller
11. The Line Begins To Blur
12. Beside You In Time
13. Right Where It Belongs
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