Thursday, May 12, 2016
Nine Inch Nails -- With Teeth
Sometimes musical change is a bit tough to take. Trent Reznor went six years (1999-2005) without releasing a new Nine Inch Nails studio album. In that time period, after years of alcohol and drug addiction, Reznor became sober. He changed as a person, and his music changed, too. Nine Inch Nails 90's output almost sounds like a noise collage melted into songs--buzzing guitars and synths bashed into acoustic and found sounds, interspersed with ambient textures. Yet with all of those sounds, NIN sounded like a one man show. With Teeth sounds like it was recorded by a four-piece band...and it's only dark...not bleakest black!
Listening to these 13 songs, one can easily imagine Reznor on vocals and keyboards, next to a bassist, guitarist, and drummer--indeed Dave Grohl(!) pops up to provide live drums on nearly half With Teeth's tracks. "Live" might actually be the key word here, as these songs sound like they could be live performances. The more acoustic sounds and ambient textures have been dialed back to nearly nothing. "Bah," went my initial impression. "This doesn't sound special any more--it just sounds like humans playing music."
Time brings change, but it also flattens out previous changes until they no longer seem so insurmountable...or even that significant.
I can listen to With Teeth now, and appreciate these 13 songs for what they are, and not what I want them to be--turns out, they are actually quite good. With Teeth's music bounces between something close to funky (check out some of those drum and bass grooves!) and pummeling (check out Dave Grohl destroying some innocent drum kit on "You Know What You Are?"!) Almost every one of With Teeth's tracks is memorable and sounds like it could be a single (this is not meant to be derogatory, there's just a strong dedication to song-craft apparent in each song), and they all fit together nicely.
Reznor does a fine job of exploring his rehab and post-rehab emotions, as he feels mechanical, cold, and wonders if he even has an identity outside of his former life. There's a through-line here that Reznor is starting to doubt the existence of reality itself. He even posits that the entire world might exist in his or your head. In that vein, there's a great circulation of ideas between the opener "All the Love in the World," and the closer, "Right Where It Belongs." Reznor actually mentions the title of the latter in the former, as well as "hiding in a crowd," only to add the distorted noises of a crowd cheering in "Right Where It Belongs," over the lyrics:
What if everything around you
Isn't quite as it seems
What if all the world you used to know
Is an elaborate dream?
This gives the album a (not to be redundant or over-obvious) dream-like quality.
Also, and this is going to be difficult to explain, With Teeth strongly evokes 2005, the year it was created. I can't explain why, and perhaps the feeling is intangible (technically, all feelings are intangible), but Reznor's lyrics, and the way this music sounds reminds me of 11 years ago. Not that the music sounds dated--it doesn't--but it evokes that time...something in the air of the recording, which I think you can hear in other popular "rock" albums from that year, like Weezer's Make Believe, or the Gorillaz' Demon Days. Or maybe that's just my memory mucking things up...what's the difference between memory and reality, anyway?
1. All the Love in the World 5:15
2. You Know What You Are? 3:42
3. The Collector 3:08
4. The Hand That Feeds 3:32
5. Love Is Not Enough 3:41
6. Every Day Is Exactly the Same 4:55
7. With Teeth 5:38
8. Only 4:23
9. Getting Smaller 3:35
10. Sunspots 4:03
11. The Line Begins to Blur 3:44
12. Beside You in Time 5:25
13. "Right Where It Belongs" 5:04