CD Review of Stand in the Fire by Warren Zevon

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With Teeth
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: Nothing/Interscope
Released: 2005
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The last time that Trent Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails contributed anything of merit to the musical landscape, it was “The Perfect Drug,” a sizzling drum-and-bass excursion for the Lost Highway soundtrack. (It was also accompanied by one of the most spectacular videos ever made.) That was in 1997, a good eight years ago. In order to gain proper perspective on just how long eight years is in the life of a musician, consider this: the Beatles released their entire catalog in less than eight years, while the Stones released Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. in half that.

Sure, the business works at a more deliberate pace now than it did then, but the fact is, Reznor’s been drifting for almost a decade. His last commercial success was 1994’s The Downward Spiral, eleven years ago. Since then, he has issued the “Perfect Drug” single, a guitar-heavy double album that was universally ignored (1999’s The Fragile), and a throwaway live album (2002’s And All That Could Have Been) that smacked of contractual obligation. In fact, Johnny Cash has had more success with Trent Reznor’s material than Reznor has (“Hurt”).

There is clearly still a market for his unique blend of industrial angst – Linkin Park, after all, is a Nine Inch Nails tribute band that writes its own songs – but does Reznor still have the goods? The honest answer is, sometimes. With Teeth, co-produced by modern rock staple Alan Moulder (check your Depeche Mode albums), has moments that capture Reznor at the height of his dark, disturbed powers, but it also has moments that no man pushing 40 (he hits the big 4-0 May 17) should write in anything other than a suicide note.

Things at least start pleasantly enough. Leadoff track “All the love in the World” takes its cue from Massive Attack’s “Angel,” starting with an understated drum/bass track and slowly building into something busier and scarier. First single “The Hand That Feeds” and the title track, which is clearly an ode to heroin, also recall Reznor’s salad days. The sound is more Downward Spiral than Fragile, an organic feel that doesn’t forsake the programmed beats that made them a household name.

But for every one of With Teeth’s shining moments, there are two equally awkward ones. The pulverizing “You Know What You Are?” is a carbon copy of “Wish” (“You better take a good look ‘cause I’m full of shit / With every bit of my heart I have tried to believe in it”), while “Only” appears to be about identifying and eliminating an alter ego, but makes a pretty unconvincing argument that he succeeded in doing so. (“There is no you, there is only me,” and, later, “There is no fucking you, there is only me”.) There are jokes all over the web about a Trent Reznor lyric generator – click here for a stunning breakdown of frequently used words in NIN songs, click here for a hilarious Goth lyric generator – but it now appears that not only does a NIN generator exist, but that Reznor himself is using it.

Years ago, when making The Fragile, Reznor joked that he thought he was making a Prince record. It’s a pity he didn’t follow up on that idea, because if would have done him a world of good. First off, he could have gotten away with murder lyrically had he written something bouncy or funky to go with his venomous rants. But more importantly, that kind of change in direction would have signified that he had grown as an artist, and likely would have helped him maintain a larger portion of his steadily shrinking audience. The simple fact is, angst is a young man’s game, and seeing Reznor still wailing about his inadequacies and romantic shortcomings is becoming embarrassing. For God’s sake, man, get over it, already. After all, the majority of your fanbase has.

~David Medsker