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23 juin 2005

NiN: fangs out

CD Review
Jim Walker

Nine Inch Nails
With Teeth

When I first listened to Nine Inch Nails’ new album, With Teeth, I thought about Peter Gabriel. He and Trent Reznor have a few things in common. Both are technically savvy musicians who’ve had a tendency to overproduce their work — a forgivable flaw that has, at times, undermined their edginess. Both are deep in the dark side of human nature. Sure, Gabriel’s work often feels cheerier on the surface (it’s not hard to feel cheerier than Reznor).

But, if you remember, “Digging in the Dirt” — from 1992’s Us — is one of the best songs ever made about sex and violence and human desperation. Another commonality between Reznor and Gabriel: both are brooding types who take a long time between records. Reznor had a five-year gap between his last two and Gabriel took 10 years between Us and 2002’s Up.

With Teeth starts with “All the Love in the World,” a song that sounds so much like Gabriel it’s eerie. Everything from Reznor’s fragile vocals to the electronic drums and fuzz bass to the piano evokes Gabriel.

Oddly enough, the first song on Up, “Darkness,” sounds like a Nine Inch Nails song — complete with screaming power cords and pounding drums. As Gabriel did with the underappreciated Up, Reznor has backed off on the layers of sound on the new album, giving it a raw power best found in another dark-but-danceable influence that, like Gabriel, made its name in the 1980s: Joy Division. The best examples on With Teeth include: “The Hand that Feeds,” “Only” and “Sunspots” — all great mixtures of power and pop.

Of course, Reznor isn’t going soft with this record. Just about every other tune rocks hard enough to make Marilyn Manson proud. But the wonderful way the album ends (with a raw, low-fi ditty reminiscent of Sparklehorse’s work), paired with its Gabriel-like start, shows that Reznor is moving toward a light that gives contrast to his darkness, a softness that makes his punches hurt even more.

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