Metal Edge Magazine

February 2000

The Fragile Review

The Fragile

The Fragile isn't like other records, but should we have expected anything less from Trent Reznor? Over the years, the Nine Inch Nails mastermind has blurred the lines between techno/industrial rage, ambient mood, and a metallic squalor: He was moody, pissed off and disenfranchised before Marilyn Manson, blacker than Metallica at Woodstock '94, and has amassed a mammoth mainstream following despite an utter disregard for commercial conventions. Multiply all that tenfold and we have The Fragile, one of the most profound and explicit musical statements of the decade, and easily one of the most unconventional albums to ever make a No. 1 debut on the Billboard Top 200.

What's so remarkable about The Fragile isn't its double-CD length or two dozen tracks---Despite the potential for cumbersome filler, there's none, every track contributing to the end product like a skilled brush of dark and eerie paint on a blank canvas. That's where Reznor shines. In a day and age of disposable radio singles and unapologetically commercial bands, the latest Nails' greatest strength is its ignorance of mainstream style and structure. Granted, there are moments of individual glory, but the songs are all more majestic when coupled with what comes before and after---"The Wretched" is haunting and creepy, penetrating with heavy, rhythmic slabs, "We're In This Together" starts on the same down-beat, but picks up enough to almost sound optimistic. Well, not really, but the spirit is there. And the album's title track wallows in a sense of desperation and hopelessness. On their own, they're images, but together they create a mindscape that grows throughout the first disc, a mood-inducing voyage into bewildered torment, mixed emotions and confused extremes. The instrumental "Just Like You Imagined" recalls the keyboard savvy of David Bowie's Outside, while "Even Deeper" swirls the realm of The Downward Spiral, wistfully sweeping the synthesized tones with an underwater calm, while "Pilgrimage" marches like a militant army of anonymous chants, chords and percussion. The first half of The Fragile takes us on a trek through the mind, where orchestrated melancholy, befuddlement and anger pave the way to disc two.

But where exactly is the destination? That mystery is the beauty of The Fragile. Disc two gets heavier and more aggressive, adding an enhanced element of rage to the ambiance, oft-times bypassing subtlely for the force of a sonic sledgehammer. "Into the Void" nudges the synth up to an industrial tremor, one of the rare moments where the album displays radio potential, while a flair for funk distinguishes "Where is Everybody" and drums power "Please" to distorted and dizzying heights. By the time "Starfuckers, Inc." blitzes at full throttle, animosity is seething like a rabid dog. Lifting a line from Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," the lyrics come to a pointed height. If, as we're led to believe, Trent Reznor is The Fragile, this album is his bittersweet vindication.

Far too complex to make any sense after a cursory listen, the brilliance of The Fragile shines on repeated exposure, as only then can the album's delicate nuances unearth its many shadows and oblique orchestrations. From dense to alarmingly multi-dimensional, Reznor has created the defining statement of his genius, an album as breathtaking as The Wall, and equally as impressive. Just as Floyd fans still ask, "Which one's Pink," the vast scope of The Fragile will be dissected for years to come.

by Paul Gargano

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Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.