Sound — 10
Trent Reznor is notable for, among other things, making the keyboard a sexy and powerful instrument. This album features a much more stripped down approach to music production, and, in that vein, is similar sounding to Pretty Hate Machine. But With Teeth is much more advanced than Pretty Hate Machine; he uses all the experience he's gained in the past fifteen years to inform a much more minimal record, and the results are fabulous. He's discovered that he can write solid songs without layering hundreds of tracks on top of each other. That being said, there are still many trademark NIN sounds present here, with lots of noisy percussion and grating synths, though the synths are generally not as gussied up as on previous records. The first thing that springs to mind as I listened to the album was how funky it is, and how beat oriented it is. Harmonically it's a very simple album (the verse in The Line Begins to Blur, for example, consists of one note played over and over), but rhythmically it's as ambitious as anything Reznor's done in the past. The Collector, for example, has a 6/8 verse with an extra beat kicked in every other bar, while the chorus alternates between 4/4 and 6/8. This may sound too complicated for pop, but Reznor knows what he's doing, and by putting the album's most straight-forward song, The Hand That Feeds, after The Collector, he provides relief for those who may have found the bizarre rhythms disorienting. The effect of this is that The Collector ends up sounding mroe unique and The Hand That Feeds sounds less frivolous. A similar transition occurs between With Teeth and Only, and the flow of the album as a whole is similarly very well thought out. And, in describing the sound of the album, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite track on the album, Beside You In Time. The song sweats anticipation, the melodious vocals playing juicily against the dissonances in the synthesizer. When the vocals and the drums drop out, leaving only the numbingly wide synth, it leaves me feeling like I'm floating in space, blinded by something beautiful. When the end section finally arrives, we are treated to a beautiful serenade from Reznor, pulling all the strings on the heart. This is one of the best Nine Inch Nails songs you've ever heard.
Lyrics — 8
I've only had time to listen to the album 15 or so times since its release, and haven't really gotten to listen to closely to the lyrics or look for common threads. Reznor's voice has certainly improved, or, at least, the scope of things he's willing to do with his voice has broadened. As always, the lyrics, like the music, are simple in small parts, but the whole begins to say something profound. The lyrics to the last song, Right Where It Belongs, are new territory for Nine Inch Nails, perhaps aided by Reznor's experience in Alcoholics Anonymous; they seem to take something from group therapy. As always the lyrics are impassioned enough to make you feel a strong connection, but vague enough for the songs to apply to a broad range of things. There's also some self-referential stuff, such as the Down In It reference in Only (which will annihilate the airwaves this summer).
Overall Impression — 10
In an era when high school kids seem to have a greater appreciation for rock and punk music of the seventies and eighties, perhaps this album falls into the zeitgeist, recalling, with its heavy use of monophonic analog synthesizers, early electronic pop. The soon-to-be-single, Only, takes the best of Michael Jackson and Prince and gives it that signature Nine Inch Nails sound. This is a vibrant album, pulsing with more energy than any other Nine Inch Nails record. If you hop on for the ride, it'll swing you around at a thousand miles an hour. Whatever else this album is, it's a thrilling statement of vitality from a man who hasn't made a record in 5 years. Call me stupid, but when he says there'll be another album soon, I actually believe him. Also, be sure to check out the artwork available online. Truly an ingenious step in album presentation.