Nine Inch Nothing?
Trent Reznor spent five years
making The Fragile.
The Fragile is a two-CD set. It has
Five years ago, Trent Reznor made
a very popular album called The
Downward Spiral. It had 14 songs.
These songs offended several conservative pundits. The
album sold a lot of copies, and it got Trent voted "Artist of
the Year" in Spin magazine.
After The Downward Spiral's big success, nobody heard
much from Trent. He produced some soundtracks that
had a song or two of his on them, and he produced
Marilyn Manson's very popular and controversial second
album Antichrist Superstar. While Manson's popularity
swelled him to icon status, Reznor's camp stayed quiet.
Supposedly, he was holed up at Nothing Studios, a
converted funeral home in New Orleans. He was doing
something big. He was waiting for Inspiration.
The Inspiration wasn't worth the
The Fragile has some superb
studio flourishes. It has insect
sounds. It has punchy, resonant
bass and crisp highs. It has
harrowing bits of piano. It has
pieces of, reportedly, more than
4000 hours of material recorded
over the last five years.
Somewhere, according to Reznor, it even uses a sound
made by shaking a box of junk in front of a microphone. It
flows from song to song with almost cinematic ease; it
feels linear and precise. It feels like Trent Reznor spent
his 4,000 hours in the studio reading a book called How
To Make the Perfect-Sounding Album, and it sounds like
he followed instructions.
The music is another story.
No mountain of studio wizardry could rescue The Fragile
from being what it is-a bloated wank session with no
impact, no soul and no relevance. Bands that wait five
years to make albums need to make timeless music that
bridges the gaps; The Fragile proves more than anything
that Reznor's flaccid industrial-lite is of an age that's past.
Trent keeps begging us to feel his pain, but he's no longer
shocking or even convincing-his pain-schtick is so tired
it's almost funny.
Good art thrives
but turning pain
into art takes an
Reznor is not
he's a pithy
couldn't hold up
in a fourth-rate
somebody told Trent that rhyming the words at the end of
every line qualifies something as poetry. The Fragile is
neck-deep in this sophomoric tripe, with couplets like,
"talking to myself all the way to the station / pictures in my
head of the final destination" or "you can keep on sucking
until the blood won't flow / when it starts to hurt it only
helps it grow." Rather than illuminate its supposedly
damaged, disaffected narrator, The Fragile yelps like a
dumb kid who can't buy a BB gun at Wal-Mart. Every
good musical idea on the record (save the couple of
instrumentals) gets suffocated by the painful lyrical drivel.
"Starfuckers, Inc.," Trent's rumination on his creative split
with Marilyn Manson, is a perfect example. The song's
groovy, junglesque lead is masterful and fresh, but by the
end of the first minute, it's buried in a wash of guitar
screech and screaming that makes Manson's work
sound innovative. Reznor cannot hope to secure
legendary status by rehashing his own production
techniques three years late.
The Fragile's greatest failing is simply that it arrived in
1999. The moment of tech-industrial-pop music is past;
Marilyn Manson has gone glam, and even perennial
bottom-feeders Filter are trying to "rock" and "emote"
more while the Bizkits of the world whoop it up with the
kids. The Fragile is too much of too little, too late. The
Reznor sound has been mined pretty liberally. The Fragile
proves more than ever that the techniques that made The
Downward Spiral so exciting were only exciting once, and
in limited doses. The two-CD format compounds listener
ennui; it turns what could have been a 50-minute album
with five good songs into two hours worth of filler-filled
As the '90s roar out, people don't tolerate unhappiness
the way they used to. Awash in today's money and
optimism, or left behind in despair, people over the age of
14 will have a hard time empathizing with a whining,
poetically incompetent multimillionaire. The Fragile is a
windbag of an album, an ambitious failure. It fails as pop
and art; it has nothing brave enough to challenge
listeners, and nothing catchy to keep them coming back.
Trent Reznor's most notable cultural achievement
already happened: he made Marilyn Manson a household
name, and watched Manson steal his fire and mollify the
impact of his sound. This noise has lost its menace, and
like all impotent fads, deserves to fade away.
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.