Sinking his 'Teeth' into the real world

Grade: A-

By Glenn Gamboa for Newsday on May 3, 2005

It's taken more than a decade, but Trent Reznor (aka Nine Inch Nails) has finally rechanneled his angst and rage toward the outside world, instead of internalizing it to become Mr. Self-Destruct himself.

With Teeth reflects Reznor's major life changes in the six years since he released an album - no more alcohol, no more cocaine, no more spooky New Orleans hideout. And, oh yeah, he's ready to rock again.

That is not to say he has exorcized all his demons. In fact, toward the end of "All the Love in the World," "With Teeth's" striking opening track, it sounds like he has arranged them into some sort of gospel choir.

From the days when he helped build industrial dance music with his debut, "Pretty Hate Machine," in 1989 to his push into the mainstream with "The Downward Spiral" in 1994, Reznor has always sounded his best when he was at his angriest. Unfortunately, in 1999's disappointing "The Fragile," too many of the songs sounded like Reznor had gone past anger into despair.

That is no longer the case. Reznor's current single, "The Hand That Feeds," even takes the rare step of venturing into political activism, questioning "What if this whole crusade's a charade and behind it all there's a price to be paid for the blood?" while he revs up the guitar attack once again.

He has some sonic surprises as well. "Only" sounds like the synth-funk of early '80s Gang of Four, while the raging "Getting Smaller" sounds like Joy Division filtered through Black Flag.

Of course, there's also plenty of classic-sounding Nine Inch Nails on "With Teeth." With its punishing drumbeat and seething sing-along chorus, "You Know Who You Are?" is the latest battle cry for his misfit army of fans, in line with "March of the Pigs" and "Wish." The stark, piano-driven "Right Where It Belongs" could be the well-adjusted follow-up to his raw, heartbroken anthem "Hurt."

Just as "The Fragile" showed that pain doesn't always yield great art, "With Teeth" shows that the quest for normalcy doesn't always have to be bland. Though it isn't as groundbreaking as his best work, "With Teeth" is a strong reminder

why, despite his lengthy absences, Reznor remains alt-rock royalty. ("With Teeth," in stores today; Grade: A-)