All this week we're going to look back over albums from undeniable goth icons and talk about their failures.
In 1999, Trent Reznor released The Fragile, which if not his greatest album... nah, you know what? It is his greatest album. Just huge and dark and there like the death waiting for us all.
In the years that followed that album Reznor lost a lot of himself in drugs and alcohol, and ended up with a case of writer's block that wasn't eroded away until he released With Teeth in 2005. The return to the mainstream was a critical smash hot, all over the radio like the old days and re-establishing Trent Reznor as one of the most preeminent alternative artists in the world.
Which is sad because that album is bloody awful, and a terrible thing to throw at people who had worn out three copies of The Fragile waiting for Reznor to get his crap together.
Don't get me wrong, I acknowledge that it's a necessary album. All those demons that Reznor was fighting to overcome needed to be exorcised, and it's not surprise to me that he chose to do it in song. So much of With Teeth reflects an expulsionary rage that is eager to cut, wound, and hurt.
That rage, though, is so completely unrefined and not at all what you would expect of so potent and industrial master. A song like "Who Do You Think You Are?" feels like a random attack, more of a temper tantrum than anything else.
And the singles... dear goth, the singles. If any song has ever been more obviously written to appear in movie trailers it's "The Hand That Feeds." I'm not doubting the sentiment behind the song, but the end product is "Perfect Drug" for the bro-metal crowd and it totally shows.
That was always the problem with Reznor in the first place. He had just enough appeal to the meatheads that they tended to walk in and shit all over the place. He cleared all those people out with The Fragile, but they came thundering back with attitude during With Teeth. "Every Day is Exactly The Same" might as well have been a Seether release. It was more Ben Moody than Nine Inch Nails.
Eventually, Reznor got all that out of his head, though it took another album to work through it. In a few years time he had apparently calmed the hell down and scooped up enough of that sweet pissed off suburban guy dollar to do what he clearly most wants to do, make weird atmospheric shit with his wife.
How to Destroy Angels kicks so much ass, and does with a whisper ten times what the last gasp of Reznor's MTV rock star phase ever managed to do. He honed that stripped down style that he worked up so well on With Teeth, but applied it to a set of deeper and more mature songs that absolutely capitvates.
With Teeth is not a bad album, don't get me wrong. If Reznor had a release schedule like Alice Cooper or The Cure you probably wouldn't even have given it much thought. But because he's just not all that prolific sometimes it stands out as this weird drunken bar fight of a record in the middle of an otherwise really excellent and fascinating career.
On the other hand, it, and Year Zero, helped move him further off the Interscope label and into the self-release model that works so well for artists like him. At least it's why I own the first HTDA album for a dollar. While it is disappointing as a somewhat misanthropic hissy fit between grander works, that seems a small price to pay for the Reznor we have now.
Tune in tomorrow for the last of the Five Most Disappointing Goth Albums.
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