Tuesday, May 17, 2005

nine inch nails - 'with teeth'

Build a time machine and go back to 1994, and you'd probably find an awkward teenager roaming about with long hair and headphones on, mouthing along to the words of the Nine Inch Nails' song 'Heresy': "God is dead and no one cares! If there is a hell, I'll see you there!" Come on, that's pretty potent stuff for an angst filled freshman who wonders why the auburn-haired girl in his biology class doesn't love him. Fuel to feed his anger from gym-class teasing and hours of homework. His name was 'me' by the way. He also quoted NIN lyrics in his English papers and printed out lyric sheets, which decorated his walls. Those were the good 'ol days, when a man named Trent Reznor spoke to a generation abandoned by Kurt Cobain and mainstream music.

Trent never really went away, but his message became moldy and stale. He followed up his masterpiece, ’The Downward Spiral’, with the ambitious, pretentious, confused, and somewhat bloated double-album, ’The Fragile’. Though under-appreciated at the time of its release, ’The Fragile’ still suffered from the old cliche that a little editing would have made it a great single album. Of course, it would have been almost impossible not to have been disappointed. The hardest thing for an artist or band to do is to follow-up their masterpiece. There are only three possible routes of success after you record one of your best albums:

1) Break-up. (At The Drive-In 'Relationship of Command')
2) Put out a radically different album. (Radiohead 'Kid A')
3) Stay with your style, but show musical growth. (Smashing Pumpkins 'Mellon Collie...')

With 'The Fragile', Trent Reznor suck with his style, but chose not to evolve as a songwriter. This was all the more a shame after the promise shown by the 'Perfect Drug' single. Instead, Trent rewrote 'The Downward Spiral' twice and stuck them together. Even the record's more beautiful and inspired moments are buried under the requisite wall off rage and radio-friendly industrial noise. The under-whelming reaction to 'The Fragile' by the press and public was just one of the motivating factors which led to Trent's multi-year battle with alcoholism. This journey included half-filled arenas, uninspired performances, stage fright, and finally, a disappearance from the pages of the music magazines altogether.

One thing working in favor of Nine Inch Nails' fourth full-length album, 'With Teeth', is the fact that 'The Fragile' absorbed the post-masterpiece expectation onslaught. Over ten years removed from Nine Inch Nails' finest moment, many fans are just relieved that Trent is alive and making music. This jubilation should serve his record sales well, considering the actual album adds little to the band's legacy.

With Teeth opens promisingly enough with the beautiful ballad, 'All The Love In The World'. Carried by stuttering beats and gentle piano, the song brings to mind The Fragile's more intimate (and better) moments. Soon after the song's dance club-friendly close, Trent reaches further back into his past for the next track, 'You Know What You Are'. With rhythms and guitars straight off the Broken EP, even the mighty drumming Dave Grohl couldn't keep me from feeling like I've heard this all before. Regretfully, the rest of the album abandons the promise of 'All The Love In The World' and looks to play it safe.

As with the album's first single, 'The Hand That Feeds', most of the songs all pound away with the same level of manufactured rage and danceable industrial beats. Think Pretty Hate Machine with more guitars. 'Only' is the most obvious throwback track, emulating the classic 'Down In It' (off of Pretty Hate Machine), right down to the lyrics: "The tiniest little dot caught my eye, it turned out to be a scab..." Tracks such as 'The Collector', 'Love Is Not Enough', and 'The Line Begins To Blur' are all pleasant, rock'n, and rather interchangeable. 'Every Day Is Exactly The Same' and 'Getting Smaller' are the best candidates for the next single, and offer what little the album has in good melodic hooks. 'Sunspots' and the title track 'With Teeth' are forgettable moments. 'Beside You In Time' would have been the perfect album closer, with its moody droning and experimental vibe. The album officially closes with 'Right Where It Belongs', a charming little bouncy tune which would have found a better home toward the center of the album.

The lyrics are dark, tormented, and bitter as one would expect. Each song is filled with the author's contempt for all human beings who surround him. This contempt is only exceeded of course by the contempt he directs toward himself. And there in lies another one of the album's greatest faults - regurgitated concepts, stanzas and images. Trent's still singing about the same anger he had 10-15 years ago. And frankly, its grown about as old as a latter day Robert Smith mope or Michael Stipe wordplay. But Trent is here to sell records, usher in new fans, and reach all the angry kids. So why change the message when its worked so well?

All in all, With Teeth is a non-offensive, catchy, well put together album. It’s listenable and dispensable, in the same way a post-Pinkerton Weezer album is. You'll enjoy it while you listen to it, but it wont find its way into your CD changer that often, nor will it be a conversation starter at your favorite java joint. With his hair combed in indie-kid fashion, Trent Reznor seems to be fighting hard against the 'elder-statesman' label. Instead, he seeks to be just as relevant as ever. But in a day in age where his contemporaries and protégés have all faded away (Filter, Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, Front Line Assembly, Ministry, KMFDM), the one thing Reznor's latest album will not do is spark an industrial revolution.


Anonymous onibocho said...

i like your review. i think this album was a somewhat lacking, but there are things like 'Only' that i enjoy.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous caleah said...

the "industrial" revolution has certianly faded away..but thankfully faded into something better: emotional body music, techno body music and futurepop, aka vnv nation, apoptygma berzerk,icon of coil, and covenant...all of whom quote trent as being an influence, yet whose fans now are far more "industrial" than nine inch nails will ever be again.
; )

9:25 PM  

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