With Teeth is Nine Inch Nails’ new long-anticipated five-years-in-the-making album. I loved The Fragile, their previous long-anticipated five-years-in-the-making album, and I had heard that this new one is quite different. Unfortunately, it is.
Initial reports were that this album goes straight for the jugular. “The is the album they should have released five years ago,” they said. It was meant to be the album that would get a wide audience after the long meandering The Fragile. Pop music fan that I am, I was looking forward to a set of punchy tracks like those on the Broken EP from last decade.
Imagine my disappointment then, when I heard the first single earlier this year. The Hand That Feeds sounds as if it could be any generic rock band — Trent Reznor’s voice is the only thing identifying this as NIN. Maybe it’s slightly more energetic than the average heavy rock sludge, but even so, for all Reznor’s studio expertise you’d think he could come up with something more interesting.
The rest of the album offers a lot more in this vein. It sounds to me as if part of the problem is the Superstar Celebrity Drummer he recruited: Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters. Previously, Reznor would record live drums, put them through a digital mangler and come up with unique industrial rhythms. This time he seems to have turned the mangler way down. As a result, the drums sound live, direct and straightforward — just like half the other stuff you hear on the radio.
Some of the songs do work. Only has a menacing feel to the spare, robotic drums and the half-spoken verses. Unfortunately, it sounds uncannily similar to NIN’s first-ever single, Down In It, which came out in the late 1980s. Back then it sounded edgy. Now it still sounds good, but where’s the progression? Unless it’s the splenetic chorus, where he does his best to earn the “Strong impact: coarse language” warning on the CD cover.
In fact, this album made me think of another song by a very different band:
Why don’t you sing ‘I need you baby’?
‘Cause it rhymes with crazy and it rhymes with maybe
It rhymes with lady and much much more
And it doesn’t rhyme with the F word
— The Beautiful South, “Straight in at 37”
The F word is much in evidence on With Teeth. Trent just doesn’t care any more. There was only only one effectively-deployed F word on his first album Pretty Hate Machine, but in the modern post-South Park world, With Teeth is an F-o-rama.
Overall, I’m a bit disappointed. I was looking forward to this record, but in the end almost decided not to bother buying it. In fact, I haven’t even listened to it — this review is based on hearing two songs on the radio, skimming through the album in a record shop, and reading a lot of reviews and articles. I’m sure I’m not the first person to review an album without listening to it, but at least I’m honest about it.
In the interests of balance, I did actually buy the CD just before writing this. I still haven’t listened to it; that explains the “before” in the title of this article. After publishing this review, I will listen to the CD a few times and publish an “after” review. And I hope my opinion changes, because otherwise I’ve just wasted $25 on a dud CD.