Though I’m sure I have promised to bring forth other albums in the past post, it seems that through the avenues of school that I have re-walked for the first time in ten years, the process of (continuously) finding work, and of teaching music and learning to become a better person, I had forgotten my promises. Well…that’s just too bad for you and so today we will dive into the mind of a man that has a lot to say in a multitude of ways: Trent Reznor.
I was never a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I was a younger lad when I saw his first couple of videos on MTV and remember being a little weirded out and kind of scared. I might have peed a little. But, as with most things, age brings a different view and sense of what was into a little bit better or at least not as terrifying a perspective. Thusly, I ventured into the realm of NIN and came up with this album. Particularly because one of the singles that actually had some substantial airplay in 2005 was The Hand that Feeds, and it was reeeeeallly good. So, I left my childish leanings of fear and dove head first into a gritty, honest (brutally), cold, mechanic and large sounding album. This album sounds GIGANTIC!
NIN’s 5th studio album and Reznor’s first original studio album since 1999, With Teeth starts out honestly enough with All the Love in the World. Innocently it starts with a three chord progression held down by solid 8th note bass and some sparse electronic percussion. Upon reaching the chorus a stark and dissonant sounding piano line comes in and there is a longing in Reznor’s vocals that sounds like he’s struggling with something. Comprehension, detox, something that sounds like its constricting his vocal chords and creating this tension. A tension that sees release as the song builds into a four-on-the-floor kick drum beat that then drives the song from longing, soulful ballad to dance floor euphoria, with those gritty Trent vocals reaching a sensationally screaming climax.
To think that this song sets the them for the rest of the album is to be completely dismembered by the very next track. A blitzkrieg of percussion that seems to throw meter right out of the window, it’s a barrage of kick-snare syncopations that rally into a half time chorus of “Don’t you fucking know what you are?!”. Its the perfect set up. Part of listening to music and albums in particular, for me, is to hear a progression, a thought or and idea that occurs, reoccurs, exemplifies an album’s mood. Often times I will use DCFC’s Transatlanticism as a seminal example of this. At first listen I wasn’t sure if With Teeth had anything other than pure cold steel running through its veins. Even the album cover art work leaves you feeling isolated and alone in the Norwegian wilderness in the middle of January. As I continued to listen and read the history of the album it started to make sense. In between the first studio album and this album Reznor had been recovering from alcohol and substance abuse. The ups and downs of the album, the in your face aggression and the thoughtful remorse, the incoherence of meter and the spacial relationships of sound and energy. All of these began to stand out as I trekked on through the songs on this album over and over again.
On a lyrical note, the songs all seem very introspective and that’s where the honesty begins to seep through the dark and brooding machinery of the music. Even the song titles and the order of the songs starts to reflect this arduous task of being split in half during detoxification. Par example – The Hand That Feeds moves into Love is Not Enough,
“Will you bite the hand that feeds/will you stay down on your knees” into
“Hey, the closer we think we are/Well it only got us so far/Now you got anything left to show/No no I didn’t think so”,
the hand being the drug and do you destroy or attack the thing, the substance that is giving you life and stay a servant to it, into staying a servant to it and feeling the unloved shame and remorse of submitting once again.
Another chart topping single from the album is Every Day is Exactly the Same. This song sums up the over album thematically:
“I believe I can see the future/Cause I repeat the same routine/I think I used to have a purpose/But then again/That might have been a dream
I think I used to have a voice/Now I never make a sound/I just do what I’ve been told/I really don’t want them to come around/Oh, no
Every day is exactly the same/Every day is exactly the same/There is no love here and there is no pain/Every day is exactly the same”
This album is brilliant. Be warned, it is heavy. Listening to it more than once or twice a day will start to feel like you’re dragging sand bags behind you. Wet sand bags. It is an opus of creativity and engineering and one of Reznor’s and NIN’s finest work. The alliterations, metaphors and pure skin and bones that are attached to this album make it worth having in your library and not just sampling on iTunes or jacking via LimeWire. Pay tribute to the artist, please.
You may also like: Queens of the Stone Age, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Deftones