(TENSION TOUR 2013. Taken at Nine Inch Nails’ show at Staples Center, Los Angeles, California, on November 8, 2013)
There are moments in our lives we will never forget. The first love, first heartbreak, family deaths, first child, but I will never forget the moment my view on music was changed forever.
This week holds a very special date to yours truly, May 3rd is the tenth anniversary of Nine Inch Nails’ fourth full-length album With Teeth. Nine Inch Nails released With Teeth after a six year hiatus. The Fragile, the album prior to With Teeth, was a double LP filled with diversity and a much different vibe than Nine Inch Nails previous album, the all-time classic, The Downward Spiral. With Teeth would be referred to in today’s age as a “return to form” or a “back to basics” style album, but Nine Inch Nails has never been one to form with the mold.
Pretty Hate Machine, the debut album from Nine Inch Nails was a revolution for industrial rock. Industrial rock, a blend of hard rock and electronica, that was widely considered as a joke by most people at one point was popularized by this band. Repetitive, looping beats, combined with ear shattering guitar riffs and screaming guttural lyrics were the prime ingredients of industrial music, needless to say those elements were not ones that were gonna propel the genre or the artists forward. Nine Inch Nails flipped all of that on its head and put all of those criticisms to rest with the release of their debut album. Adding several pop elements and adding some emphasis to the electronic aspect of to the traditional elements of industrial music, frontman Trent Reznor made industrial music much more palatable for the masses.
I was unaware of any of this history or even of the band’s makeup when I first heard With Teeth. I knew of Nine Inch Nails since I was about nine years old, I got into music at a very young age and I remember seeing a Nine Inch Nails performance on television during the 1999 Video Music Awards. The song was The Fragile, from the same titled album, and although I had no idea who they were, I sensed that it was a big performance and that this might be a band I like in the future.
I remember shortly after With Teeth came out, I went to a friend’s house and saw the album on his desk. My friend had apparently traded CDs with someone and was recommending the album to them, I wanted to ask him about it, but never did. A few weeks later, I kept getting an itch to listen to the album. I had heard “The Hand that Feeds” and got kind of obsessed with it, even though the track had been released as a single for some time, it caught my ear and I fell in love with the riff and the lyrics.
I finally bought the album and began listening. The first listen was pretty strange, I sat and listened to it as if it was a movie, alone in my room in absolute complete silence. The first track “All the Love in the World” was a bit odd at first, kinda long, very heavy on the electronic beats and samples, but it started growing on me towards the end. Once I heard the second track I knew I was in for a treat, “You Know What You Are?” was much more in my wheel house. Loud, angry, aggressive, with double petal bass drum beats and roaring guitars. Once I heard Trent yell, “DON’T YOU FUCKING KNOW WHAT YOU ARE?!” I knew this could be an album that I listen to for awhile. The following track “The Collector” was in the same vein as the previous; loud, in your face, unforgiving. “The Hand that Feeds” was one of my favorite songs during that time, and after a few dozen listens, it only cemented it’s place of all-time favorite tracks. “Love is Not Enough” was a song that although I liked at the time, came to mean something much more important to me a few years later. “Every Day is Exactly the Same,” just from the title, I knew I would like it, and sure enough, I did. The lyrics seemed like a journal entry of my life at that point, and I began to feel some adoration toward Trent as a writer. The title track “With Teeth” was simultaneously the most quintessential of Nine Inch Nails songs and the most different, traditional Nine Inch Nails rhythms with atypical instrumentation. “Only,” the second single off the record, a plea from a self destructive mental patient, amused me with my strange fascination for the insane. “Only,” also quickly became one of my favorite tracks. The offbeat Trent Reznor take on punk rock, “Getting Smaller” was another descent into my angry adolescent taste. “Sunspots” a soft, yet chaotic breed of Reznor angst caught my attention for almost unknown reasons. “The Line Begins to Blur,” a sort of return to the melancholy sounds of The Fragile. “Beside You in Time” was the one and only song I could never get into, just too repetitive for me, but it didn’t matter because it was made up and then some, with the last track of the album.
Had With Teeth ended with “Beside You in Time,” it would’ve been a good solid album that I may hear a few times a month, but the last track changed my view of Nine Inch Nails forever. “Right Where It Belongs” is the final track on the album, and it also happens to be my favorite song of all-time, a full decade later, “Right Where It Belongs” remains my favorite song ever and I still see no evidence of it changing. I have yet to hear any song as thought provoking as this. I have said ad nauseum to anyone that I’ve shown that song to that “it is the only song that you’ll ever hear that’ll make you happy if you’re sad, and make you sad if you’re happy,” I have yet to hear one person who disagrees with this statement. One five minute song of Trent Reznor asking haunting and uncomfortable questions changed everything for me.
Prior to becoming a Nine Inch Nails fan, I was a purist. I listened to mostly rock music, a little bit of hip-hop, and little of anything else. My favorite band was, and still is, Rage Against the Machine, and the one thing I loved and respected about them was that they never used any type of samples or synthesizers in their music. Being that Rage was my favorite band, I looked down at any rock group who used drum machines and synthesizers, in fact, I was almost insulted by them. How? How could a “rock band” use synthesizers and computer programs to create music? In my purist perspective, it was shameful, almost blasphemous to a point, that all changed after I listened to With Teeth. I became a huge Nine Inch Nails fan and I quickly began reading up on the band’s history and began searching for their album catalog. Once I found out that Nine Inch Nails was not an actual band, but a one man group comprised exclusively of Trent Reznor, my mind was blown.
I liked With Teeth, I really did, but learning that Nine Inch Nails was basically a rock experiment of a genius producer and musician, made me a die-hard Nine Inch Nails fan, and it rewired every idea I had about music. I listened to hip-hop, I enjoyed some electronic music as well, so why couldn’t I enjoy the music of Nine Inch Nails? Over some stupid holier than thou ideas of music? Trent Reznor is an incredibly talented musician, I was cognizant of that, but with my dumb stance on musical purity, I would not be able to acknowledge it or accept it, so I rejected my own ideas.
Music was now actually music to me. I no longer judged songs for their lack of acoustics or voice changing effects. A pop song can be catchy and still be good, a rap song can be nonsensical, and still make you want to dance. I became accepting and I became a music fan, genres were just perforated pages from the same book now, as far as I was concerned.
If it wasn’t for Trent Reznor creating that album, I would’ve been stuck in my ancient, idiotic way of thinking. If With Teeth was done in the style of Pretty Hate Machine, I would’ve never become a big Nine Inch Nails fan. It had to be mean, in your face, aggressive rock, for me to finally appreciate it. Once Nine Inch Nails opened that door to the music universe I climbed in and never looked back. I bought every album that Nine Inch Nails ever came out with over the next few years, and my musical variety expanded as well. Without Nine Inch Nails, I would’ve never listened to artists like Amy Winehouse, whose Back to Black album also helped me through some difficulties during a period in my life. Björk, Portishead, Frank Turner, Neon Trees, Lauryn Hill, Bebé, Honeyhoney and many more would not have been introduced to me, if it wasn’t for With Teeth. To Trent Reznor, and every other person who worked on that album I just want to say, thank you, from the bottom of my heart and every part of my soul, thank you for changing my life.