Sound — 8
For the year leading up to With Teeth, I was whipped into a NIN frenzy. If Trent Reznor was spotted at the supermarket, I would read about it somewhere. As one can imagine, my expectations were tremendous. And, to my fortune, they were indeed met. With Teeth is a solid and diverse follow-up to the experimental Fragile of '99. The album has something for everyone: good old industrial metal (You Know What You Are?), nod-your-head rock (The Hand That Feeds, Getting Smaller), cheesy yet awesome 80s synth rock (Only), and even a vaccuum cleaner on the seductive Sunspots. The instrumentation is solid as well, as usual, Trent write songs that can create a mood and impress the listener without needing to use decadent guitar solos or extended or guttural screaming. Here's a track-by-track rundown: 01. All The Love In The World - an experimental, groovy drum 'n' bass track. A very unique and, some might say, risky way to start the album. However, it delivers, with an impressive crescendo and an interesting use of gospel-like singing. 02. You Know What You Are? - the first word that comes to mind is "Broken" (or maybe "Ministry" for you big industrial fans). Trent's able to deliver brooding rock with the inclusion of spooky synths and drums that punch you in the face straight away. Juxtaposes nicely with All The Love In The World. 03. The Collector - the most disappointing track on the album. The lyrics are somewhat weak, and there's not much else appealing; no real hook, no catchy bridge. Just some mediocre synths and low vocals towards the end. 04. The Hand That Feeds - the radio-friendly leadoff single, that actually has some credibility. This song shows the real maturation of Trent's lyical skills, and his ability to focus on topics other than himself. Of course, everyone's done the bush bash before, but on this track, it's done with style and integrity. And who could forget that awesome synth solo? 05. Love Is Not Enough - once more, we see some nice juxtaposition between the rockin' Hand That Feeds, and this; a brooding, angry track, that echoes "lost lover". Droning guitars, creepy goth-y bass and some decent lyrics. A solid track. Not single material, but certainly good. 06. Every Day Is Exactly The Same - another solid track. It has a weird, semi-industrial feel to it; could've very easily been on The Fragile. The lyrics are a bit weak, but it's something that's he's never done before, and it delivers. 07. With Teeth - this is the track that I consider to be the end of the first half of With Teeth. Those of you with who are slightly perverse may be reminded of fellatio by the lyrics, but the subject matter reflects Love Is Not Enough. Some really unusual guitar effects, and a nice juxtaposition of pretty piano, followed by an abrupt burst of every other instrument. "Ah-with-ah teeth-ah!" 08. Only - this is by far the standout track on the album. Many of the more-than-casual NIN fans will see a lot of similarities between this track and Down In It (they even both mention thie "tiny little dot"), but this certainly wasn't a Skinny Puppy rip-off. A funky bassline, catchy lyrics and a killer chorus. This song screams of the '80s. 09. Getting Smaller - it's difficult to follow up a track like Only, but Getting Smaller does it well. It's the real punch in the face that we were promised, with a vicious riff. Very punk-y indeed. 10. The Line Begins To Blur - this is where things really do begin to blur. There's a little too much distortion here, I feel sorry for whoever tries to tab it out. It's alright, it's nothing special. 11. Beside You In Time - this track can get very annoying, depending on your mood. Hell, even if you're the happiest person alive, it can still sound like a broken record. But once that crescendo kicks in, and we hear the guitars, the song really picks up. A nice way to lead in to the mandatory ballad of the album. 12. Right Where It Belongs - Hurt, meet your companion. I still can't decide if this matches up to the Downward Spiral closer, but it still is a brilliant piece. Once again, the crescendo is where things really pick up, and no matter what, this song can bring a tear to your eye. One of the most beautiful piano riffs I've ever heard. 13. Home - this track is only on some versions; the Australian, Japanese and vinyl ones, I believe. Interesting use of brass, which is something we haven't seen for a while (I can only think of Purest Feeling, but I doubt anyone wants to remember that). This song sounds sort of empty, but in a good way. It's hard to describe, so I'll just say that it's good.
Lyrics — 7
Trent's lyrical skills have never really been that fantastic in comparison to the other big groups of alternative rock. On With Teeth, we see a bit of juxtaposition; we have the lyrical maturity and intelligence of The Hand That Feeds, which one can both sing along to without feeling stupid. Conversely, we have some lyrics that are just plain stupid: "I pick things up/I am a collector", "Sunspots cast a glare in my eye/Sometimes I forget I'm alive". It's certainly a mixed batch. But of course, as we know, Trent has gone sober, and he's beating his demons, so I guess we can't really expect the same sincerity and originality on previous albums. As a vocalist, Trent's still as good as ever. There's certainly a lot of diversity; the quiet melancholy of All The Love In The World, which builds up into an gospel-like crescendo. You Know What You Are? and Getting Smaller display the angry Trent we all know and love from the days of Broken and The Downward Spiral. The vocals are indeed up to standard, but it can be difficult to appreciate them when the accompanying lyrics leave so much more to be desired.
Overall Impression — 8
No NIN album will ever be able to match The Downward Spiral. There'll never be another Ruiner, nor another Becoming. With Teeth delivers; it's a good, solid album, but one can't help but wonder if Bleedthrough would've been any better, had the ideas not been scrapped. I'm still waiting for My Dead Friend (unless that track was turned into something else). Only is of course the standout track, but the poor lyrics present throughout the album really bring it down. As far as diversity is concerned, this album is a masterpiece, but unfortauntely, it still leaves a bit to be desired.