Devoted acolytes of Nine Inch Nails major-domo Trent Reznor would heartily disagree -- the 39-year-old has always seemed empowered by despair and alienation. He's a black-clad Superman who embodies Kramer's assertion that in some circles, "melancholy is heroism."
Certainly, Reznor's larger-than-life mythology of bleakness appears to insulate him from fan backlash. In fact, the six-year gap between 1999's The Fragile and the new With Teeth has only increased interest in his enigmatic world. NIN's current small-venue U.S. tour sold out within minutes, and the band is closing this year's prestigious Coachella Festival in Southern California with a headlining gig.
Yet there's something to be said for the concept that despair weakens artistic drive. Initially, The Fragile was a musically absorbing two-disc set. But these days, the sprawling album sounds like the very embodiment of depression as a mental prison; it's unfocused and littered with frustrated and aimless expressions of confusion, anger, and uncertainty.
It's both a relief and a surprise, then, to hear how driven Reznor sounds on With Teeth, despite the usual abundance of self-doubt and regret. The disc isn't quite as nihilistic or nerve-fraying as 1994's The Downward Spiral, but the two albums share an affinity for radio-ready hooks.
Teeth's concessions to tradition are done without compromising any harshness. "Getting Smaller" explodes with a refrain that's practically a note-for-note re-creation of the chorus to the Pixies' "Planet of Sound." The gothic keyboard sine waves on "Only" resemble Ministry's darkwave synth-pop origins. "All the Love in the World" even dabbles in industrial's descendent, glitchy IDM electro, and crescendos into a surprisingly dance-floor-friendly throb replete with falsetto coos and an untz-untz breakdown.
But Teeth makes its greatest strides in the way Reznor reacts to his ever-present demons -- by questioning their presence instead of feeling trapped by them. The old Reznor was "too fucked up to care anymore" (on Fragile's "Somewhat Damaged") or lamented that "it's too late for me" (from that album's title track) to fix his problems. But now, he sounds like someone who's just achieved clarity after awakening from a long nap -- suddenly thrust from blindness to sight, reverse-Oedipus style -- and is really pissed off at what he sees.
Confusing the singer with the content of his songs is always a dangerous proposition. But there's definite fascination in studying someone who is drawn to the brink of the bottomless abyss but avoids freefalling into nothingness. There's always the nagging thought, "Is this the time he actually jumps?" -- and a silent cheer when he returns every time, buoyed by danger.
Kramer's article notes that "superficially, mental pain resembles passion, strong emotion that stands in opposition to the corrupt world." Reznor's passion is mental pain -- but With Teeth proves he has nearly perfected the art of sublimation. -- Annie Zaleski
Led by mando-madman Jamie Masefield, the Jazz Mandolin Project squeezes some fresh sounds from its unlikely -- and some would say unholy -- jazz/bluegrass hybrid. Taking the Vermont fusionistas as an example, Outtakes proposes a few fantasy bands that exploit the bluegrass crossover concept. Just wait, America: Indiegrass is gonna be yooge by August!
- Washboard Confessional
- Spitoon 5
- The Smashing Bumpkins
- The (Road) Killers
- Death Cab for Cletus
- Inbredder than Ezra
-- Jason Budjinski and Jonathan Zwickel
The Jazz Mandolin Project plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $12 advance, $15 at the door. Call 954-564-1074.
They might be the lesser-known Midwestern garage blooze duo, but the Black Keys still fill the hipster quotient with their scuzzy, low-fi rasp and celebrity connections. Last year's Rubber Factory -- named after the abandoned tire factory where it was recorded -- was a triumphant, battered marriage of ragged blues and strident rock. It was the Akron, Ohio, band's second release on shit-kicking blues label Fat Possum, which they share with old-time hill country hell raisers like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Outtakes caught up with drummer Patrick Carney while he and singer/guitarist Dan Aurbach were leaving the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
Patrick Carney: It's really weird to be talking on the phone and staring across the street at this memorial thing.
Outtakes: You feel sacrilegious?
You know how when you're on a cell phone and you're looking at something and it's like you're watching TV cuz you're disconnected? It does feel weird to be here because I remember when that shit happened. It feels like they cut some corners making this memorial, though. There's cracks in it already.
Have you guys ever been to Florida?
Other than the shows we opened for Beck, these will be our first shows in Florida.
The Culture Room is cool. It's been around a while by South Florida standards.
Isn't the oldest city in the country in Florida?
That's an anomaly. After St. Augustine was founded, Florida was forgotten about until they invented air conditioning.
Our sound guy really wants to eat at Café Risqué in Gainesville.
That's the topless restaurant, right? That's the real Florida. So I was brainstorming for a few album titles for you guys as a follow-up to Rubber Factory.
Yeah. Like Carpet Warehouse.
You go from Rubber Factory to Carpet Warehouse. Or Cattle Yard. The ultimate concept album would be Recording Studio.
Recording Studio [laughs]. That's good.
Just some suggestions you can do with what you will.
The next one will be our fourth album, so I think it's time to call it the Black Keys II. You know how Black Sabbath's fourth album was called Black Sabbath IV? I think it would be really sweet to start the sequential naming on the fourth record like they did but start it with the wrong number.
And then you gotta get Dave Chapelle to direct the video. David Cross [the actor/comedian who directed the video for their single "10 a.m. Automatic"] is totally last year. Chapelle's the new "it" guy.
David Cross is always my "it" guy. I'm a huge fanboy of him. Once he did the video, my life has been somewhat fulfilled.
I don't know him personally, but he seems like kind of a bastard.
Maybe his humor is sometimes kinda mean-spirited, but I think it's the right spirit.
I think part of the problem is I listened to his standup album with my feminist-deconstructionist ex-girlfriend, who couldn't stand it.
Well, that's your problem. You broke up with her, right? Don't blame David Cross for that. -- Jonathan Zwickel
The Black Keys play with the Henchmen at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 8, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $12 advance, $15 at the door. Call 954-564-1074.