NIN: With Teeth

4 stars out of 5

By Matt Schild for Aversion.com on May 3, 2005

The terms �healthy psychology� and �Nine Inch Nails� don�t usually come up in the same conversation, let alone the same sentence. While band principal Trent Reznor hasn�t conquered his demons � or at least keeps them bottled up for inspiration � With Teeth shows he�s been, to snatch a phrase from crappy therapists, making real progress.

Don�t sweat it. If With Teeth is any measure, he�s still keeping psycho-pharmaceutical companies, an overworked psychologists or two and six or seven support groups in business. This time out, he�s rebounded from the nailed-to-the-floor depression and angst that fueled his forays into the shifting, out-of-focus experiments of 1999�s The Fragile (Interscope). Instead of the sprawling, oftentimes unfocused pastiche of post-industrial layering and electroburn, With Teeth is about as accessible as the first half of The Downward Spiral � meaning, essentially, Reznor�s put a few issues behind him, and is ready to start connecting with the world around him.

Perhaps With Teeth�s more user-friendly side stems from Reznor�s self-restraint and editing: Where his last effort boasted an expansive, two-disc, 23 track-listing, With Teeth pares things back to a manageable 13 cuts, amputating the extended, ambient instrumentals and textured segues for Nine Inch Nails� most song-based album since Broken. Once again relying upon the pop structures � more or less, at least � that made Pretty Hate Machine so revolutionary, Reznor pulls his act from the manic fringes which made his last was so easy to ignore.

Lead single �Bite the Hand that Feeds� is as straightforward as Reznor has been since his days as an unknown programmer. Although heavily distorted guitars garnish the song with industrial-strength stomping power, they cloak a snarky hook that plays up the track�s programming and vocals. It�s louder and dirtier than anything on Pretty Hate Machine, but it comes from the same space. �Only� plops shivering programming on top of a bass line that�s simultaneously funky and mechanical, while �All the Love in the World� is propelled by a rainstorm of spastic snare beats, like valium-addicted breakbeats; both are destined for remix/dance floor heaven. Even when Reznor gets a bit more emotions, as in �Love is Not Enough,� with grinding guitars filled with cathartic explosions of noise, or �Every Day is Exactly the Same,� with its wide-swing dynamics, it doesn�t feel as if he�s nursing the ruins of his nineteenth nervous breakdown as much as using his heart of darkness as songwriting inspiration.

While it certainly isn�t the best Nine Inch Nails album, With Teeth may be the band�s definitive work. Juggling the textures and layers of the act�s previous two records while maintaining the crisp accessibility of Reznor�s early work, With Teeth is a comfortable middle ground between Nine Inch Nails� extremes. It doesn�t yield the unforgettable hooks of �Head Like a Hole� or �Sin,� nor does it spin off into the grips of depression of �Hurt,� a friendly medium is a welcome return from The Fraglie�s descent into abstract insanity.