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With Teeth

 

 

 

 

New Musical Express

 

23. April 2005

 

 

 

Autor: Mike Sterry

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bite of Alright

Post-addiction “pop” album showcases lighter side of everyone’s favourite nu-metal demagogue

Nine Inch Nails

With Teeth

7 Punkte

We all fell for it. Let‘s not be ashamed, for it is only by wringing a painful, tear-sodden admission of guilt from ourselves that can we begin to truly heal Because before the New Rock Revolution, before Kate and Pete began to play ‘hide the persimmon‘ in public, before the chavs in your neighbourhood adopted ‘Mr Brightside‘ as the theme to their grand pub exeunt, you were there. Main Stage. Reading or Leeds, 2000. A hand curled over your brow, squinting in the stinking heat, you were thinking, “Yowza, these Limp Bizkit boys sure do know how to rock!“

Yes for a while, Fred Durst was your Jesus, the frat-boy hysterics of Jackass were the pinnacle of your comedy and nothing could beat a night in with a few tins, a crumpled baggie of oregano and around 1000 goes at Tony Hawk. You may have even owned a real skateboard (since pawned, a casualty to your fashion budget). You most certainly owned a copy of ‘Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water‘ (since fallen behind the stereo). If this wasn‘t you, we can but apologise but for a time in 2000 nu-metal was, well, cool. At least if we are to believe sales figures, or the proliferation of be-hoodie‘d mini maggots across town centres to be a solid determinant of ‘cool‘.

Now, we were fooled too. We‘d occasionally print things like: “Korn blow the Opposition to atoms“ and how Slipknot‘s ‘lowa‘ was the album of 2001 most likely to “restore your faith in humanity“, rather than stating flatly that the credibility bankrupt Slipknot were a joke taken one pickled goat‘s head too far. Faced with the terror of Staind and Puddle Of Mudd in the charts, it was hard to avoid the fact that almost overnight, the misery and misogyny of nu-metal had broken the mainstream. But who to blame?

Undeniably, one of the central architects of this boom in gloom was Nine Inch Nails‘ multi-instrumental demagogue-cum-producer Trent Reznor, or “he who bears a startling resemblance to a smudge-nosed Owen Wilson were he to own a fetish club“. Of course, his grim industrial soundscapes were continents apart from the ass-spanking thuggery of sports metal, but it was the quadruple-platinum ‘The Downward Spiral‘, along with his work with Marilyn Manson on ‘Antichrist Superstar‘, that got the ball rolling for heavy music‘s gradual renaissance.

We last heard from Reznor (remix albums and soundtrack work notwithstanding in 1999 with the release of‘ The Fragile‘, which despite its overblown pomposity and the audible arrogance of its master, was still a gross commercial success. A dreaded double-LP, it was an album borne of the stinking self-loathing and ponderous introspection that goes hand-in- hand with substance abuse. Consequently, it was shit. Comparable to a Stephen King novel, its vast, unparalleled sonic meandering was only saved by the occasional punctuation of extremely taut goth-pop (see ‘Starfuckers Inc‘).

‘With Teeth‘, thankfully, is nothing like it. It‘s the album that‘s seen Reznor commit many judicious and long-overdue acts of excision, both creatively and within his private life. Left both physically and spiritually ravaged after the excesses of touring ‘The Fragile‘, Reznor found himself, as many had before him, unable to go on. It was a simple case of out with the drugs and alcohol, and in with the therapy. ‘With Teeth‘ is the album after the exorcism.

Other people have always been secondary concerns in the NIN blueprint, and with his firing of long-time members Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser and hiring of Marilyn Manson‘s old bass player, Jeordie White (formerly known as Twiggy Ramirez) and the Icarus Line‘s guitarist Aaron North for his live band, you get the feeling that Reznor rarely values his collaborators above the role of mere ‘helpers‘ (DrDre was kindly allowed to assist in the mixing of a track on ‘The Downward Spiral‘). Nine Inch Nails has always been The Trent Reznor Show. But if anything‘s an indication of Reznor‘s revitalised sensibility, it‘s the appearance of “With Teeth’s” high-profile helper, sticks-slut for-hire David Grohl, who adds noticeable bombast to several tracks. Pity regular drummer/collaborator Jerome Dillon though, who has to contest with both Groh! and the drum machine for Reznor‘s favour.

So, shorn of his addictions, Reznor promised an album that was light on the instrumental ephemera that characterised his previous work, and instead heavy on melody, structure and convention. And it looks like that‘s what we‘ve got. It is, shudder to think, Nine Inch Nails‘ Pop album. Or, at least, Reznor is returning to the more song-orientated territory of ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘. Now, Mr Reznor has always been a deft hand at this populist music malarkey, he just never liked to admit it. ‘Sin‘, ‘Closer‘ and ‘The Perfect Drug‘ are all deliciously deviant inversions of the pop song, to the extent that you could innocently drop ‘The Perfect Drug‘ into the mix at a Year Seven disco and no-one would be the wiser (perhaps).

But look at the treats on display here. Opener ‘All The Love In The World‘ is one of two songs from ‘With Teeth‘ to bear a slight resemblance to Radiohead‘s ‘Everything In Its Right Place‘ (the second one being the aptly, somewhat cheekily named ‘Right Where It Belongs‘). “Where do you get all the love in the world?“ Reznor questions while juddering, low-key synth beats pulse beneath a fiat piano riff before the whole affair erupts into typical NIN sturm und drang. But the sonic temerity of its opening proves something of a red herring: ‘With Teeth‘ is a loud record. Because BOOM! — track two — ‘You Know Who You Are?‘ is all searing drums and angle grinder synth from the get-go, where Mr Reznor repeatedly spits his second question of the evening: “Don‘t you fucking know what you are?“

Let‘s not be coy; you have to be a fan of pithy rhyming couplets, idiotic rhetorical questions and self-aggrandising statements such as “I believe I can see the future/Because I repeat the same routine“ to really dig Reznor‘s lyrics. He is not the brooding poet of the darkened soul as some —Tori Amos included — claim him to be. It took the Man In Black, Johnny Cash, to truly infuse a NIN song with meaning and it‘s telling that Reznor has admitted to feeling somewhat violated by Cash‘s Interpretation of ‘Hurt‘. Occasionally, as they did on ‘Closer‘, the unsophisticated nature of Reznor‘s lyrics work to their advantage; his primal insistence does have the ability to hypnotise, as on first single ‘The Hand That Feeds‘ — NIN‘s attempt at the accessible stadium anthem — which ends up sounding a bit like Bono in bondage. This happens to be a good thing, if a rather disconcerting image.

But accessibility is key here, and it‘s something that may very well alienate those who prefer Reznor at his more obtuse.

The bristling ‘Getting Smaller‘ is Queens Of The Stone Age‘s ‘Go With The Flow‘ as heard by Charlie Manson, while the blood-curdling electro-pop of ‘Only‘ is perhaps ‘With Teeth’s most bizarre offering, doubtless coming soon to a Soulwax mix album near you. And then there‘s the final track, the slow-burner ‘Right Where It Belongs‘, a gorgeous piano-led dirge that soothes away much of the earlier fury, even when Reznor introduces the sounds of an appreciative audience (just in case you didn‘t realise how loved NIN in fact are).

He needn‘t fret. A violent, sumptuous work, ‘With Teeth‘ may cause some grumbling among his more ardent tin-eared fans, but this is as coherent and visionary as Trent Reznor has been in years.

Mike Sterry

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