NIN Make Good On Long-Awaited LP, The Fragile
Nine Inch Nails' epic work really is the bomb — but
can they overcome the hype?
(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay is an opinion piece and
does not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc. or its affiliated
A year ago, the cryptic campaign to create a buzz around the Nine
Inch Nails album, The Fragile, began with a 30-second commercial
on MTV featuring NIN frontman, Trent Reznor, singing a bit of "Into
the Void": "Tried to save myself but myself keeps slipping away."
The ad, and a subsequent quirky marketing campaign, certainly
caught my attention, and over time set us up to expect something
even stranger from Reznor than his groundbreaking previous
albums, Pretty Hate Machine (1989) and The Downward Spiral
The Fragile (RealAudio excerpt of title track)
was released Tuesday, and this first NIN studio
album in five years is an epic work. No surprise.
Though I know that Reznor, at least from
comments he's made to reporters from the New
York Times, Los Angeles Times and Time
magazine, went through a mild depression
during which he doubted his abilities, I and
hundreds of thousands of other fans knew that
when a new NIN album finally was finished, it
would be the bomb.
What is surprising to me is the halfhearted
raves the album has been getting from some critics. While Time, of
all publications, gives the album its due, the Los Angeles Times
gives it 3 1/2 stars. The Fragile "... feels too long," writes critic
Spin's Ann Powers likes it better, but still gives it a nine out of 10,
one short of a masterpiece. Entertainment Weekly's Will Hermes
says "Right now, hard rock doesn't get any smarter, harder, or
more ambitious than this." But that still earns the album merely an
Rolling Stone checks in with four out of five stars. Writes Rob
Sheffield: "Now that you mention it, The Fragile does run a little
long, doesn't it? But excess is Reznor's chosen shock tactic, and
what's especially shocking is how much action he packs into his
digital via dolorosa."
Even SonicNet can't just give Reznor his due. Our critic, Douglas
Wolk, gave it a 3 1/2 out of five rating, cautioning: "But there's a
wearying side to Reznor's rich excesses. The Fragile is clearly
meant to be a grand statement on the scale of Pink Floyd's The
Wall, whose producer Bob Ezrin is credited with 'final continuity and
flow.' What it's got is a serious sprawl problem, with no compelling
justification for its expansiveness."
I think the problem is in buying into the hype, then being let down
by the real thing.
I mean, imagine you've spent the past five years thinking that The
Downward Spiral was really awesome, or reading other critics who
said it was really awesome. You see Reznor repeatedly on
magazine covers. Then over the past year you began feeding off the
hype so that in your mind the upcoming album got built up to where
you expected the Red Sea to part and Moses to come on down the
mountain toting The Fragile in his outstretched hands.
With that kind of buildup, no matter how good the album is, how
can it fail to disappoint?
Well I've been listening to The Fragile all week. I loaded it into my
Rio 500 and I've been listening through headphones, in my car, in
my office, wherever I go. Let me tell you, it's no letdown. It's all that!
The album is grand, at times horrifying, at times energizing —
ultimately mystifying. It is one of the best two-record sets ever
made, deserving to sit on the shelf beside Led Zeppelin's Physical
Graffiti (1975), the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street (1972), Bob
Dylan's Blonde on Blonde (1966), Bruce Springsteen's The River
(1980), the Clash's London Calling (1979) and 1999, (1982) by
Prince — later known as The Artist.
The music alone is worth the ride. Reznor has spoken of watching
Taxi Driver and of being inspired by the creepy David Cronenberg
film Dead Ringers, and at points The Fragile is just as scary. No,
not scary. Rather, certain pieces of music create a feeling of dread,
of being overwhelmed. Nothing else makes you feel quite like this.
"Flew too high and burnt the wing/ Lost my faith in everything,"
sings Reznor in the opening track, "Somewhat Damaged"
I don't know about you, and I don't know about the millions of kids
who are gonna buy this album over the next year or so, but I can
relate to that line. And I could relate to that line back when I was in
high school. In those days, my friends and I had Tamalpais High
School wired. We put on school rock concerts, we wrote about art
and music in the school paper, and we cut classes more often than
not to hitchhike up to the record store, where we got our real
education. We thought we had the world in the palm of our hand,
but we found out the hard way that we didn't.
Out of high school and on to college and we were at square one,
having to prove ourselves all over again. Girlfriends dumped us. We
found ourselves working at fast-food joints. In a way, we went from
being stars to being in the gutter.
The success Reznor experienced in the wake of Pretty Hate
Machine and then The Downward Spiral hit him hard. You hear it so
often it's a cliché, that sudden wealth and fame are not easy to
I don't know what it feels like to be Trent Reznor, or to have gone
through what he has. I do know that my own journey, first breaking
into Rolling Stone in the mid-'80s, then founding Addicted To Noise
in a room of my house and taking it through mergers and
acquisitions, finding myself running the most influential daily music
news service in the world, and being a player at the biggest online
music network, has been an interesting one. At times an unsettling
"The clouds will part and the sky cracks open/ And God himself will
reach his fucking arm through/ JUST TO PUSH YOU DOWN/ JUST
TO HOLD YOU DOWN," Reznor sings on "The Wretched."
Oh f--- it, just go get a copy of The Fragile. Like it or hate it, it's
gonna change you if you dig into it, if you let it sink in.
SonicNet is a division of MTV Interactive. Editorial Director Michael Goldberg
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