Things were kind of iffy for Trent Reznor with the release of his double album The Fragile, but coming back clean and sober in 2005 he released With Teeth, which up until his 2013 release was his finest work of the later part of his career. There are tons of elements here that sound like classic Nine Inch Nails, but there are other elements to the music that keeps everything fresh and the listener interested in the album. Though some fans were initially unhappy with the release, I find it’s a strong album with stellar songs.
Even though Reznor is clean and sober on the record, it doesn’t mean the darkness is completely gone from the music. The opening track “All the Love in the World” sets the insecure tone of the album. The moody, mellow drumbeat gives way to Trent’s cracking vocals during the first verse as if he’s nervous or unsure of what’s coming next. Though sometimes Reznor can sound a bit whiny during the chorus of “Why do you get all the love in the world” it still has a somber mood and it doesn’t take anything away from the track. What’s interesting is how midway the tempo picks up, the piano sounds upbeat, the musical sound is overall bright. Trent still laments not getting all the love in the world, but instead of sounding whiny, he playful, like he’s teasing someone. Still, it’s a great way to open this stellar album.
Things get intense with “You Know What You Are” with the frantic drumming, the siren like music, and the pure chaos of everything. The way Reznor screams out “Don’t you fucking know what you are?” gets your blood pumping and your heart racing. To contrast, there’s a quiet musical break that acts as the calm before the storm since the chaos comes back towards the end. It’s an awesome song that shows whether sober or not, Reznor’s still got it. “The Collector” has some of the most interesting lyrics. During the chorus the way Trent sings “I’m trying to fit it all inside/I’m trying to open my mouth wide” makes it sound like he’s talking about a blow job, but it’s been suggested he may be talking about whether or not he wants to keep making music. Either way, the booming drums and the grooving bass pulls you into the song. “Love is Not Enough” is an amazing track with pulsing drumbeats and a growling bass that sounds ready to attack. The guitar plays violently while Reznor screams “Now you have anything left to show/no, no I didn’t think so.” It’s just an awesome song and I love how he croons at the end.
Though a lot of the record deals with struggles of overcoming addiction and throwing yourself into the world clean and sober, there are several references to obedience and standing up for yourself. This is found in “The Hand that Feeds.” It’s a catchy track that talks about not following the masses and having the balls to fight against authority for what you believe. More references to obeying are made on “Everyday is Exactly the Same.” The somber piano during the intro is similar to “Something I Can Never Have” and it’s just as bleak. If there is one song about getting over drugs it’s this one. He talks about doing what he’s told, while feeling like the world is waiting for him to fall. It also seems to reference suicide when he says “I’m writing on a little piece of paper/I’m hoping someday you might find/Well I’ll hide it behind something/They won’t look behind.” Still, these brief mentions of obedience foreshadows what he wold talk about on his next album.
One of the most deceptively sensual songs is “With Teeth.” It begins with a sick bass line and a roaring guitar riff that each have a cool groove to them. Just like his previous song “Sanctified” the lyrics refer to a dangerous, sensual woman, but since it’s Reznor its more than likely he’s talking about drugs and their effect. But what makes this song really stand out is the musical progression. During the middle another guitar comes in, lighter than the others with a twang to it. Then everything abruptly stops making you think the song is over. Piano playing fills up the silence and let me just say no matter what song it is, Reznor always makes a piano sound like it’s crying. Then the music comes crashing in louder and more chaotic than before.
The LP ends on a somber note with both “Beside You in Time” and “Right Where it Belongs.” Both are soul crushing songs that are so moody, you want to crawl in a hole and stay there. “Beside You in Time” has this cool stuttering effect to the music that makes it sound like the record is skipping. While the music is a bit intense the lyrics that seem to reference dying and meeting up with someone in the afterlife brings the mood down. “Right Where it Belongs” is hands down the most depressing track on the album. The somber piano sets the mood while Trent’s muted vocals weave through the song. The lyrics may be about seeing the world differently from your previous outlook and not being sure which version is real. It’s one of those songs that make you reflect on it after it’s over. A crushing end to a stellar album.
Overall, the album gets 9/10. It’s a fantastic record that served as a great comeback for Nine Inch Nail. Though Reznor is sober here, he shows he hasn’t lost any of his edge. In fact, his new outlook on life provides interesting material for these songs. There are some tracks that make you think of classic NIN, but there’s enough new stuff and different sounds to keep the LP exciting. Some songs are angry, some a depressing, but none of them are dull. If you haven’t heard this album or didn’t like it the first time give it another try, maybe you’ll find it’s better than you thought.