It’s hard to believe that With Teeth turns ten this year. It’s one of those Nine Inch Nails releases that I listened to as if I was reading this autobiographical novel of the every man overcoming his demons. Released six years after the double disc, The Fragile, which depicted a very dark time in Trent Reznor‘s life, With Teeth was not only a snapshot on where Reznor was, but also a foreshadowing of where Nine Inch Nails were going to be. Sonically, With Teeth is methodical, brooding, and at some points, relentless. Within the chaos, there are parts of beauty in the quiet breakdown of the title track. It’s listening to the emotion of a sniper finding his mark, the space between the elation of the target, and the pulling of the trigger.
When Reznor discussed the album, he corrected to what many thought was going to be a concept album, but more of songs that had relationships but didn’t rely on each other. The first two tracks, “All The Love In The World” and “You Know What You Are?” almost clash with each other instantly. With a slow build up of percussion and faint piano keys, followed by a driving harmony section, Reznor seems to be asking himself why he is still this renowned figure, as he’s flawed just like the rest of us. “You Know What You Are?” is the Hyde side giving a wake up call – both in it’s lyrical and confronting nature: “You can dress it up/you can try to pretend/but you can’t change anything in the end.”
There’s also a connection between the ballad tracks, like “Everyday Is Exactly The Same”, and aggressiveness where guitars are on the front lines like in “Getting Smaller”. When your on the road to recovery, you have your good and bad days, and throughout the thirteen tracks it feels like reading from Reznor’s journal. Old themes are omnipresent with the dancibility of Pretty Hate Machine in “Only” and the gritty, machine like war of “The Line Begins To Blur”.
Let’s look into the future shall we? Nine Inch Nails’ next album would be Year Zero, where the collective depicted a dystophian world akin to George Orwell’s 1985. You can definitely seem the schematics of that album take form on With Teeth. In the straight rocker, “The Hand That Feeds”, they lyrics hint at a political discord that Reznor had with the Bush regime: “What if this all contains a charade/and behind it all is a price to be paid/for the blood/on which we dine”. The last track of the album, “Right Where It Belongs”, fits the album like a puzzle as you can interpret it as a moment of self-awareness for Reznor himself, or a political awakening written about the characters in the next album. A great strength about this album is that while the lyrics are very blatantly written, the meanings can actually take you many different places.
When I discuss my favorite Nine Inch Nails albums, it seems like With Teeth gets lost in the mix when it’s maybe the most underrated album in this catalog. There’s an honestly you can appreciate and relate to. It was the album that kept the Reznor ethos while making him more human, bringing a new generation of Nine Inch Nails fans in.
Industrial Rock | Columbia Records