A few days ago I talked about the new Nine Inch Nails album, With Teeth. Even though I had the CD, at that time I maintained my objectivity by carefully avoiding listening to it before reviewing it.
Since then I have listened to With Teeth several times (and The Hand That Feeds several thousand times in my head). I now feel able to report in more detail. I can now say that With Teeth is not the worst Nine Inch Nails album ever.
Album opener All the Love in the World is almost a ballad, with NIN’s signature creepy horror-movie piano (CHMP) and Trent singing in falsetto. He writes, produces, and performs, he’s controversial, he sings in a high voice — next thing he’ll change his name to a symbol. Anyway, the song degenerates into shouting and guitars towards the end, as NIN often does, before the CHMP returns to close the track.
In the context of the album, The Hand That Feeds sounds great. But this is only because the previous two tracks are turgid heavy rock sludge — The Hand That Feeds at least has a beat you can tap your foot to.
The verses of this song sound similar to the verses in the far superior single We’re In This Together from the previous album. We’re In This Together had exciting dynamics, a lovely melody underneath the noise, and a bleak yet hopeful lyric. The Hand That Feeds has none of these. It has a certain insistent energy, but it’s also repetitive and even more one-dimensional than the rest of the NIN oeuvre. It’s also catchy. So catchy that it has been running through my head for the last couple of days. Actually, the version in my head is better than the album version, which is my good luck and your misfortune.
Every Day is Exactly the Same is one of the better songs, though harsher critics might suggest that “Every Song is Exactly the Same” would be a more appropriate title. Apart from the live-sounding drums, this song could have come from Pretty Hate Machine, NIN’s debut album from 1991. The overall sound is processed and synthetic. I love the chord change in the verse, and when the CHMP and falsetto come in after the middle it all just works.
Only, another good track, is even more old-school. When I first heard it, I thought it was reminiscent of NIN’s first-ever single, Down In It. It looks as if this was intentional, since Only contains a lyrical snippet from Down In It: “A tiny little dot caught my eye”. In the first song, the dot was something pulling him down; in Only, the dot is a scab. So clearly, the new album is just as much of a barrel of laughs as NIN’s earlier work.
As the album begins to wind down, Sunspots sounds like generic NIN until the chorus kicks in. Wow! Bumpin’ grindin’ funk! That falsetto! “She turns me on”! The weird food-processor sound! Great stuff. Sounds like a hit single to me.
Later, the CHMP is used to excellent effect on the closing track, Right Where It Belongs. This is an affectingly angst-ridden exploration of a favourite NIN theme: radical solipsism.
The Australian With Teeth CD has an extra track, Home. It’s OK, but the reverberating drums are overpowering and overused (and over here), as they are on the whole album. The meagre sprinkling of CHMP just isn’t enough to make this worth the inclusion.
It may be disappointing that I have stooped to writing about common facts and experience rather than sheer speculation and baseless opinion, but at least it makes an interesting comparison. I have tried to keep this new article independent; to avoid influence from the old review I scrupulously avoided reading it. If only I had scrupulously avoided writing it then I could have saved myself a lot of bother.
You can buy With Teeth (or anything else) through my links to Amazon.com (or Amazon.co.uk). This will throw a few pennies my way, and maybe next time I can buy and listen to the CD before reviewing it.
Anyway, I do like With Teeth and I am glad I bought it. But for me it’s the weakest of the four studio albums. The worst NIN album overall is, of course, the live album And All That Could Have Been. And I can say this with confidence because I have never heard a note of it.