With Teeth - Nine Inch Nails (2005)
Most similar to: Nothing really compares - but I suppose Gary Numan, Marilyn Manson
Best tracks? Every Day Is Exactly The Same, The Hand That Feeds, Right Where It Belongs
Buy it at Amazon!
Why did I buy it? I adore NIN and everything they do is compulsive listening for me. They are the only band I will buy without hearing anything from the album.
[Updated to include the UK bonus tracks now the album has been released.]
The review is from the perspective of a dedicated NIN fan - so it refers to their past work. If you're not yet a NIN fan, all I can say is that this album would be an excellent introduction.
It's a great album - with echoes of all their past work, but a new energy that takes it forward. I've seen the With Teeth tour twice so far, and this music is as good as ever. So what if Trent will be 40 this year? He's obviously not ready to lie down and be tame! My only complaint is that some of the songs are too short and end far too abruptly after just three minutes; I'd love to hear what would happen if they were allowed to develop, but in accordance with Trent's ethos of this album being "twelve punches in the face" they seem to stop songs as soon as they start. And yes, I know there are thirteen of them...
Like Pretty Hate Machine these songs each stand alone, yet like all previous albums there are moments of aggression and of beauty; I believe this album is more accessible than any other on first listen, combines all the best elements and takes them further, and will stand the test of time. Highly recommended.
1. All The Love In The World
Another album begins with a song which quietly builds up, inciting the listener to crank up the volume - and when it reaches the crescendo, you don't want to turn the sound back down! The only weakness is that the first words heard are "watching all the insects move along" which isn't terribly inviting, nor does it set the scene for what follows.
The haunting demand "Why do you get all the love in the world?" is repeated over a piano solo reminiscent of much from The Fragile, then slightly demanding electric drums and finally guitars come in underneath, before calm is restored in a more controlled piano solo. I've never heard Trent sing so high or so contained until the tamborine (yes, TAMBOURINE) kicks in and chaos slowly builds to create a familiar NIN cacophony, with so many sounds at once that you don't know which to listen to, let alone which to sing along with. It ends as it begins, with peaceful piano - a rousing introduction to the album, but without the depth of lyrics some will be looking for. It also left some fans bewildered when played live, but hopefully later in the tour (after the album has been released) it will be more favourably received.
2. You Know What You Are
This song should belong on Broken... it's aggressive, it gets right in there and stabs you, and it demands "Don't you fucking know what you are?" from the outset. It kicks off at a fast pace and simply runs away, with thrashing drums, angry vocals and distorted guitar. It went down very well at the recent live shows, and in time I can see it being as popular as "Gave Up".
3. The Collector
With this track we are catapulted back into the tight drum sounds of Pretty Hate Machine, but there are snatches of everything; vocal style akin to Starfuckers, piano which would fit into The Downward Spiral - it shows more than any other track on this album that With Teeth is not in one style, but harks back to all NIN's previous work, and takes it further. At just over three minutes it's punchy, but over before you know it.
4. The Hand That Feeds
If you haven't heard this already, go to www.nin.com and play the video of it. It's their first single from this album, out on 14 April, and it's even been performed on CD:UK (a kids' Saturday morning music show). It's bouncey, and unlike anything Trent has done before. The chorus is terribly catchy, "Just how deep do you believe? Will you bite the hand that feeds? Will you chew until it bleeds? Can you get up off your knees? Are you brave enough to see? Do you wanna change it?" It's apparently a dig at George Bush going to war with Iraq, which is a shock - Trent getting political - but I don't care. I love the song, it's instantly recognisable and has great appeal. It's a bit obvious, but enjoyable too. I hope it's a hit.
5. Love Is Not Enough
The title of this song reminded me of a James Bond theme, but fortunately it's nothing of the sort. It begins with raw sounding drums and jarring guitar; Trent doesn't so much sing as narrate "I can't remember what it is". Although on first impression it all grates, I get drawn in and end up shouting along with it "Love is NOT enough". It's not comfortable listening at any point (although quite enjoyable, if you like that kind of thing) but when it ends abruptly after only a few minutes I wish Trent had taken it further.
6. Every Day Is Exactly The Same
This is instantly my favourite song on this album - every time it starts my attention is automatically grabbed - although I wonder if I'll come to love the others more later. It kicks off with a synth bassline, and then jumps right in with the lyrics. This, and The Hand That Feeds, are the most accessible songs on the album, but unlike THTF this has some depth to it, an edgy underlying bass note and slightly more desparate words - "I can't remember how this got started, but I can tell you exactly how it will end". It's odd, lyrics like "I just don't know what else I can do" over an upbeat track that is almost happy compared to NIN's usual style. Unlike some other tracks here the length is just about long enough. It's so easy to get into this, sing along with it, and yet get some meaning out of it, that this has to be the best song here... at least on first listen!
7. With Teeth
This is the most distinctive and edgy song of the album. A lot of discussion has surrounded the wierd pronounciation of this title track and indeed, Trent snarls "a-with-the-teeth-uh" in a very strange manner. It didn't really work when I heard it live and it was dropped in the next day's set (unusual, as it's the name of the album and the tour!) However it works very well as an album track - starting with a growl, rising to a snarl and ending with a snap, before going into a quiet section (like some of The Fragile) - a welcome relief in the gig in the same way as The Frail can be - and then diving straight back into their usual industrial sound with no warning, returning to "A-With-The-Teeth-Uh!" It's a great track, but it takes a few listens to win you over.
You'd be forgiven for thinking the intro was Gary Numan - it's full of upbeat synth and tight beats. Trent is back to half singing, half narrating, and I'm starting to wonder whether he's lost his voice - it's the only part of him that seems to be aging. But as the chorus cuts in with "There is no you, there is only me, there is no fucking YOU, there is only ME" I know he hasn't lost his way. But it's almost disco! He refers back to Down In It in both style and lyrics as he sings "well the tiniest dot caught my eye, it turned out to be a scab and I had this funny feeling like I just knew it's something bad...". Fundamentally this is another song that gets up and runs, it's pacy, catchy and another "punch in the face". I love it, but I'm not sure I take a lot away from it.
9. Getting Smaller
This song was one of the three leaked before the release, so I'm already familiar with it. As such I've already gotten over the strangeness of "I got my arms to flip-flop-flip-flop-flip" and embraced the driving chorus, which is closest to something from Broken but not quite like anything I've heard. The wierdness is the contrast between the more confessional verses and the raging chorus, then the conclusion "My world is getting smaller every dayayayayay" - but somehow it all works well from the off, unlike the mishmash of With Teeth. I'm sorry they didn't play it at the live dates.
We start with Trent sounding vague and washed out... the strong and angsty bass line tells us it's still NIN, but when he sings "She turns me on, she makes me real" in almost a falsetto voice, I'm reminded of the Scissor Sisters - and that's not good! The song is almost rescued by more Numanesque keyboards, but I'm left feeling that this was an experiment that didn't quite work. It sounds like someone using a power drill over a perfectly good song. Perhaps it will grow on me. It is by no means a "punch in the face" though - more of a wet slap.
11. The Line Begins To Blur
Back to NIN as we know it (and as many have heard it, since this song was also leaked). This is a fantastic song - straight in with the verse, onto a chorus with haunting piano underneath lyrics which cry "now I'm not so sure... the line begins to blur", then back to demanding "Is there anyone stopping me? I don't know, I don't know..." - a great song to sing along at a gig but there are quite a few of these faster songs on this album, so I'm not sure how much it lends as an album track.
12. Beside You In Time
This is a very different track but it keeps reminding me of others - annoying, as that makes it hard to judge on its own merits.
Starting on one long note, the sound quickly fills in around it and becomes more cacophonic, pounding almost as if moving quickly in and out of phase - very reminiscent of The Day The World Went Away. However, here Trent's whispery vocals hold everything together - for once on this album adding something musically rather than just lyrically, until they fade away and the music swells and finally explodes into a clearer sound, the only words filtering through are a distorted "beside.. you .. in time". Finally it ebbs away, and I'm left wondering whether the song has a character of its own or has merely borrowed the best bits from so many others. It feels like it lasts too long and at nearly five and a half minutes, I wonder why this song was so special when others were snapped off before they could develop! One hint might be in the use of the lyric "bleed through" - the original working title for this album before it became "With Teeth". Either way, it's a welcome change and a chance to draw breath before the intensity of the final track.
13. Right Where It Belongs
This track sums up what I love about NIN - on first listening it was so beautiful that I was welling up at once. It's poignant and seems like the next logical step from Hurt. It slowly builds, calling "See the safety of the life you have got, everything where it belongs, feel the hollowness inside of your heart, and it's all.. right where it belongs". There's no respite as Trent continues to plead and tear at you "what if everything around you isn't quite as it seems? What if all the world you think you know is an elaborate dream?" It's the kind of song that makes me want to both cry in private and yet tell everyone about it, with the kind of lyrics that reach out to tackle you, and yet with gentle support underlying it all from the music beneath.
Suddenly it swells and develops with an overlaid track of a crowd screaming adds unexpected weight and emotion, then falls away to leave Trent bare, wailing "what if you could look right through the cracks, would you find yourself, find yourself afraid to see?" As the track ends, it slowly ebbs away into Trent singing "oh, oh.. " like a lullaby, accompanied by soft piano. This song alone makes the album worth buying. Best of all, it's a very satisfying end to the entire thing.
14. Home (UK bonus track)
This song starts off tuneless and jarring - not in the usual way but because the music and vocals really aren't in the same key (if you can detect a key at all) so musically, it's slightly interesting. The tune comes in gradually, and the lyrics reassure "I am still inside you". It definitely feels like an outtake, never swelling or reaching a conclusion, and simply ends with drums.
15. Right Where It Belongs v2 (UK bonus track)
The difference between this and the first version is like the difference between the original and the quiet versions of Hurt. As I said above, I feel this song is the next logical progression from Hurt, and it benefits from the same treatment. It's just Trent's very bare and emotional vocals over a gentle keyboard... truly beautiful. This is in complete contrast to the first version, which builds up to feature a cheering crowd - and both versions are fantastic.
Would I buy it again?
Without a second thought.
This page last updated: 03 May 2005
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