Since this review is attached to the DualDisc edition, I’ll begin there. The 5.1 surround mix is worth the additional price for the DD; it brings the sound alive just as the 5.1 reworking of “The Downward Spiral” anniversary edition did. However, the additional content is pretty lackluster. The video for “The Hand That Feeds” is the one being played on MTV, not the fabled alternate clip. The discography contains short audio/video samples of NIN’s entire career, but they’re nothing new to any fan. It’s also important to note that the DualDisc format isn’t as universally compatible as the standard CD and can even get stuck and/or scratched in certain laptop and car CD drives. So, unless you plan on listening regularly to the 5.1 mix, I’d save the couple of dollars and stick with the regular CD edition. Now on to the album itself. . .
It’s been over six years since the last full-length studio release from Trent Reznor, and a difficult six years at that. Reznor has since come clean about his battles with substance addiction and crises in confidence about his musical abilities. After hearing the pre-release single “The Hand That Feeds”, the Internet buzzed with hot-and-cold reactions to its more accessible sound. Had Reznor actually lost the edge that had produced so much crucial music over the last decade and a half?
A single listen to “With Teeth” is enough put such concerns to rest. It’s a return to the “Pretty Hate Machine” idea of creating an album of songs, not a synth symphony with returning motifs such as “The Fragile” or an industrial-rock opera like “The Downward Spiral”. Each song displays a lot of maturity in the writing and recording – plenty of raw emotion gets across with less aggro-angst overkill (let’s face it – too much more of that and Reznor would have been on the way toward becoming a real self-parody). Some songs are upbeat, some are heavier than anything that he’s done before, some are delicate ballads that will have crowds waving lighters in the air. But the tracks still maintain enough continuity that no tracks are stranded – although diverse from song to song, the album is without a doubt a comprehensive work.
As for the performance, each song on the record is geared toward being played as-is by the current tour lineup – not that it’s stripped-down, but you should be able to count on live performances sounding like the album without overreliance on pre-recorded tracks. Dave Grohl, this millennium’s hardest working man in show biz, laid down a lot of the drum tracks on the studio recording and the entire album has a very man-made, organic rock sound. The result is a very satisfying record, not just compared to other acts’ current releases, but also to NIN’s earlier works.
Here are some notes on the tracks and how the compare to other NIN tracks:
1. “All The Love in the World”: Begins with a complex almost drum-and-bass rhythm over quiet vocals and ends with a major-key piano chord progression over a multi-layered chorus of Reznor vocals. Progressive in the Radiohead vein but unmistakably NIN.
2. “You Know What You Are?”: When nin.com promised that the upcoming tour would “destroy” audiences, this was the track that Reznor had in mind. A thrashy, incredibly fast beat immediately kicks off the track’s verse, sounding a lot like Ministry; this is broken up by a slower but incredibly heavy chorus.
3. “Collector”: This is the first of several tracks that express the defining sound of this album: live, organic drums and heavy bass guitar building a rhythm that’s a mile-high and two tons of heavy. It’s reminiscent of “The Big Come Down” without so much electronic production. Keeping with the in-person feel, it also features a surprising but well-placed piano solo with discordant jazzy chords and scales – think Bowie’s “Heart’s Filthy Lesson” or “Just Like You Imagined” from “The Fragile”.
4. “The Hand That Feeds”: You’ve likely heard it either like it or hate it. Get over the keyboard solo and get on board.
5. “Love Is Not Enough”: A quick rock number that features another huge rhythm foundation and a complex beat that is reminiscent of “I Do Not Want This”.
6. “Every Day Is Exactly the Same”: A mid-tempo electronic number that features many familiar NIN sounds. It includes a very memorable chorus that is anthemic without compromising its tone. It will get stuck in your head with no warning.
7. “With Teeth”: Far and away the oddest track on the album. First off, it has a shuffling beat that will throw listeners off-kilter for the first several bars. Imagine an uber-muscular version of Siouxsie’s “Peek-a-Boo”. But the real kick is the incredibly quiet piano interlude in the middle of the song. This track manages to be possibly the noisiest on the album without resorting to the typical aggro conventions.
8. “Only”: This, the second single from “With Teeth”, begins with a very unorganic eighties-throwback drumloop backing Reznor freestyling spoken vocals – not a rap, but almost a beat poetry reading. The mood and instrumentation are vintage NIN like “Ringfinger” while the very danceable beat is reminiscent of “Into the Void”.
9: “Getting Smaller”: Another mosh-ready rock number similar to “You Know What You Are?”. Probably the most disposable track on the album.
10: “Sunspots”: A slinky, seductive number that builds to a catchy rock stomp during the chorus. Think “The Only Time” from “Pretty Hate Machine”.
11. “The Line Begins to Blur”: Trent’s vocals are at their emotional peak on this one. Virtually atonal during the verses, with live drums that are distorted and electronically chopped up to great effect. The chorus is almost dreamy in comparison but anchored by a 4/4 war-drum tempo. By the time it hits the chorus, this track sounds very much like “The Day The Whole World Went Away” except fully realized this time around.
12. “Beside You In Time”: This is the track that is played under the recent web ad on nin.com. It’s not all instrumental, but it maintains it’s 2/4 electronica feel throughout. It’s a throwback to the Coil remixes on “Fixed”.
13. “Right Where It Belongs”: The album ends with its sole quiet track. A plainly pretty melody (reminded me of the verses on “Even Deeper”) sung over top of keys and a detuned piano. Not quite “Hurt”, but not bad, either.
“With Teeth” solidifies Reznor’s place in musical history by displaying his capacity for growth within the sub-genre that he created for himself. It’s undeniably Nine Inch Nails without being tired, repetitive or derivative of earlier works.