Recall, for a moment, the mid-nineties. Nine Inch Nails' groundbreaking album The Downward Spiral was fresh, brutal, and angry, helping to introduce the masses to the beauty of crushing, dark industrial noise. All of a sudden, a legion of bands squeezed their most photogenic member into tight vinyl pants, bought their very own copy of Pro-Tools, and followed Trent Reznor all the way to the bank. Ten years later, fishnet shirts and overwrought angst have settled in the graveyard of the rock cliche, laid to rest with the "tragic drug overdose" and the designer hobo look.
Finally, in between side-projects such as Jakalope, Reznor has managed to come up with a follow-up to 1999's The Fragile. While he still harbors more self-doubt and sexual frustration than a clique of high-school Goths, he has yet to slide into the laughable self-parody of his former protege, Marilyn Manson--a man Focus on the Family isn't even afraid of anymore.
On With Teeth, Reznor distills his demons into a more focused effort than what was heard on its epic predecessor. This isn't his typical crunchy industrial, and it largely lacks the pure anger of Broken and The Downward Spiral, With Teeth actually has an 80's new wave feel to it. Somehow though, when Reznor puts his spin on this sound, it's less cloying--perhaps because he's old enough to actually remember the 80's.
With Teeth is certainly more intimate and organic than previous NIN releases, trading some of the dense, layered sounds of days gone by for a more stripped down feeling. Guest drummer Dave Ghrol is partly responsible for this shift, adding his wonderfully poppy, sledgehammer drumming to the NIN sound. This isn't to say Reznor has completely abandoned the aggressive sounds of previous releases. Noisy, distorted guitars, pounding bass drums, and layered synths are still being used to great effect, and Reznor is still a master of using soft, melodic interludes to diffuse the tension he creates.
While the album sounds energetic, Rezor remains Much Music's most spiteful aging millionaire. In a world where even Nivek Ogre has lightened up, Trent has only traded his vitriol for quiet resignation and seething rage. With Teeth isn't much of a departure from the past. It takes the effective elements from days gone by and puts them all together into a concise and, at times, radio-friendly release. It isn't groundbreaking, but it's far from irrelevant and well worth the wait.