At 40, Trent Reznor has seen it all: various personnel changes in Nine Inch
Nails’ sixteen year history, The Fragile
posting Billboard’s biggest album drop ever, a near-fatal overdose in 2001, a recent court settlement with former friend and manager John Malm, and Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, his hometown for over a decade.
Reznor’s back in business sporting a well-muscled frame, buzz cut, strong vocals and a new lease on life (sort of). The latest Nine Inch Nails offering, With Teeth, is just as sleek and refined as its creator.
Die-hard fans seeking another The Fragile or The Downward Spiral may very well walk away feeling letdown as Reznor substitutes multi-layered soundscapes and slash-my-wrist lyrics for a more organic hard rock sound and newfound vocal power. Don’t let the new sound fool you; Reznor’s penchant for conveying a deep range of emotions is still there.
Album-opener “All the Love in the World” is quite a sonic shocker. Delicate lyrics like All the jagged edges disappear/Colors all look brighter when you’re near are framed with hard bass, melodic piano riffs and a light organ swell. The modern rock chart-topping singles “The Hand That Feeds” and the near radio-friendly “Only” showcase Reznor’s ability to craft mainstream fare.
The intense tracks “The Line Begins to Blur,” “Getting Smaller” and “You Know What You Are?” provide strong proof that sober Reznor can still spit vitriol with the best of them. The title track features a Middle Eastern-infused groove, grating guitars and a Reznor trademark quiet piano breakdown with whispers of I cannot go through this again.
New single “Everyday is Exactly the Same” highlights Reznor’s vocal talents while exploring life’s redundancies (make no mistake, this song and others can be construed as odes of addiction and the struggle for sobriety). “Sunspots,” “Beside You in Time” and “Right Where it Belongs” are major surprises which show Reznor’s versatility and vulnerability.
The reflective tone of final track “Right Where it Belongs” is beautifully haunting and faintly reminiscent of John Lennon’s “Imagine”: What if everything around you isn’t quite as it seems?/What if all the world you used to know is an elaborate dream? Despite Reznor’s seemingly unanswerable questions, he’s finally at peace with himself enough to end this album on a good note. Expect this album to be nominated for a Best Hard Rock or Alternative Grammy.