Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth (2005)
After a six-year hiatus, Reznor emerged from the studio a changed man. Sober, with a shaved head and absolutely ripped at age forty, he began the second phase of his career with a scaled-back album full of singles and ballads. With Teeth has its staple singles — “The Hand That Feeds” and consistently brilliant “Only” — but keeps away from the melodramatic highs of his earlier work. After the Apocalypse Now-level gauntlet that was The Fragile, With Teeth is conservative, minimalist and as close to easy-listening as Reznor gets, which may be why fan reaction to the record remains pretty cool.
That said, With Teeth is a dark horse with serious potential. Sobriety added some needed clarity and heft to Reznor’s voice, allowing it to carry more tender songs like “Every Day Is Exactly The Same” and “Right Where It Belongs,” as well as ragers “You Know What You Are?” and “Getting Smaller.” It’s Reznor’s most rock-centric album since the Broken EP, and he bolstered that side of his music with a thick, beefy guitar tone, and some powerful drumming courtesy of Dave Grohl. There isn’t one weak track on With Teeth, and some of them, like the bassy bolero that is “Sunspots,” deserve greater critical revisitation. Lyrically, this is as clear and focused as Reznor gets, with most of his sexuality and apocalyptic imagery traded in for a direct dialogue about sobriety. But despite all the rock, it’s the quiet moments — Reznor’s tender crooning on opener “All The Love In The World,” or the tambourine focus of the title track — that sell With Teeth as an unappreciated gem in Reznor’s discography.