Prologue: I am writing this now set to my first listen of William Basinki’s Disintegration Loops. Because of course I am. That may affect the tone of what I am about to say, i.e. that it will be a lot more hopeless and whiny even than normal. Cool.
After the second extended wait in as many albums – The Fragile followed a full five years after their 1994 classic, The Downward Spiral – Trent Reznor and company present 2005’s With Teeth. It is the band’s most conventional rock album, and I kind of hate it.
While it is a valiant attempt to break new, considerably more electronic-minded ground, a lot of the record falls flat due to unexpected heavy-handedness, a characteristic Reznor all but abandoned for The Fragile.
I mean, I get it. This record is about Reznor’s alcoholism/drug addiction and his recovery from both. I guess I’m supposed to experience some sort of empathy or sympathy for that fact, but I just don’t.
It’s also the first attempt at embracing the sludgy, glitchy, overdriven and often violent soundscape that he set out to achieve. But in forging new territory, Rezzy regresses a bit in what feels like a label-driven desire for a single. Though the ubiquitous “The Hand That Feeds” contains all of the elements that make up an essential NIN song (rabid guitars, a shifting but driven beat, and occasional wailing, some trippy key work, etc). But for whatever reason, it comes off as the most forced and plastic radio-friendly song this side of The Fragile’s “Starfuckers, Inc.”
Much of this record doesn’t feel like Reznor at all, which… may be explained away by his visits to rehab. I will say though, that the album that follows, Year Zero , is a masterwork. Child’s play for Reznor. It would seem that With Teeth lays the framework for subsequent releases The Slip and most recently, Hesitation Marks – the latter of which I am still in the process of digesting.
So I guess it’s not all bad then, right?
On the bright side, there are tracks like the rambunctious “The Collector,” and the pure shearing of “Getting Smaller.” The louder moments on With Teeth are fine. Some of the lighter moments, too: “Beside You in Time” is an arid slow-burn, one that will inform listeners of the coming Ghosts series. Good stuff.
Still the weak point in the NIN discog for me.
From With Teeth, this is “You Know What You Are?” –
Standout tracks: “The Collector,” “With Teeth,” “Only,” and “Getting Smaller”
Weakest track: “The Hand That Feeds” or “Love is Not Enough” or “Sunspots”
RIYL: The feeling of frustration when an artist does something unexpected and it takes you a while to come around to it because they’re the artist and you aren’t, shut up.