Review Summary: A Nine Inch Nails album for just about everybody.
In high school, there were a select handful of albums that I considered "go to albums" for driving around with a car load of random people. These albums were necessary, as being one of the only kids in my small, literally middle-of-nowhere hometown with a reliable mode of transportation meant that I would be subjected to a number of awkward social situations in my car with unlikely assortments of my peers- situations that would only be made worse with disagreeable music in the background. Since most of my classmate's musical tastes consisted mainly of country and mainstream hip-hop, my alternative rock tastes were often scrutinized and frowned upon, and since I was too stubborn to give up listening to music I liked while in my own car, these go to albums existed as a sort of compromise between two differing parties. Even though I was usually more in the mood for the epic, brooding soundscapes of The Fragile or the raging, industrial grittiness of The Downward Spiral when it came to NIN back then, "With Teeth" served my needs for these situations perfectly. It's an album full of catchy, enjoyable rock songs that can easily appeal to the ears of just about anyone- even my own father, whose musical tastes couldn't be more different from my own, can dig "The Hand That Feeds"- and still manages to contain enough moments of depth to keep even the most hardcore NIN fans happy.
It's important to forget the negative connotations that come with calling "With Teeth" a compromise for a minute, though, and appreciate the album for what it is in comparison to the rest of the NIN catalogue. One of the most obvious things that Trent Reznor has demonstrated about himself as a musician throughout his career is that he is not okay with making the same album twice, and while there isn't a clear process of "evolution" from album to album, each new record certainly explores a different musical territory than its predecessor. "Pretty Hate Machine" showcases the clearest elements elements of Reznor's pop roots, while "Broken" is an enraged EP that kicks the heaviness up... oh, 10 or 15 notches. "The Downward Spiral" is a masterful excursion into chaotic Industrial darkness, while "The Fragile" is the most organic sounding album that Reznor has ever had a hand in. So, while it's in danger of being seen as a regression of Reznor's artistry, "With Teeth" really does take the NIN sound into previously untapped territory, and that willingness to avoid redundancy is a big part of what makes Reznor such an appealing artist.
Luckily for us, even though the fairly straightforward, radio-ready rock sound "With Teeth" champions might be a bit more surface-level than what its brethren have to offer, it's an incredibly well-executed effort that contains several of the band's finest moments. Take, for instance, the progressive, beat-driven opener, "All The Love In The World," which begins as sparse, minimalistic song with whispered vocals, before eventually evolving into a grand, piano-heavy spectacle that proudly puts one of Trent's finest, most beautiful vocal melodies on display. It's an utterly transfixing song that works to full effect as an opener. Other highlights include "The Collector", where Dave Grohl makes his presence on the drums very clearly felt, "Sunspots", which boasts a dark, slithering, and infectious bassline, "The Line Begins To Blur", a dynamic song that combines the album's grittiest industrial moments with its most pristine, and "Right Where It Belongs", which concludes the album perfectly and is perhaps the most beautiful and poignant NIN song that isn't named "Hurt". All of these album highlights combine with a slew of radio hits and a few other worthy tracks (only the rocking "Getting Smaller" feels like it should have been relegated to the B-sides) to create a very enjoyable experience that has easily the most mass appeal of any NIN album. No, this isn't the NIN album that I would bring with me to a deserted island, but it is a strong effort from Reznor that certainly has an important spot in the NIN discography. 3.5/5 Stars.