Two Rock Critics are having a
conversation. One says to the other,
"Have you heard the new Nine Inch
Nails album yet?" And the other
says "No, I hated it."
Hahaha. I love that joke. If it offends you, stop reading now
and click over to the effusive,
Trent-Reznor-as-the-Second-Coming-of-Christ colon- nuzzling
session provided by Reef Valmont in his review of The
Fragile. You don't want to read what I have to say about this
record and Trentís possible fatal case of Head-Up-Ass disease.
It wasnít always this way. Not so long ago, I was the biggest,
most fanatical, single-minded, Trent-obsessed Nine Inch Nails
fan on the planet. In fact, the story behind how I met fellow
Pandemonium columnist, Reef "Kill the Lights" Valmont
involves our participation, along with a third partner, in the
publication of a now-defunct Nine Inch Nails fanzine called
SIN. So don't even try to tell me I wasn't all the way down the
spiral with Trent and company.
The problem is, I'm not the most patient person in the world.
It's a character flaw I'm working hard to overcome, but the
simple truth remains that I really hate to be kept waiting.
When necessity dictates that the making of a record takes
longer than expected or desired -- even to the point where it
exceeds the limits of reason -- (and I understand that this
does happen) the pay-off had better deliver satisfaction
guaranteed, or you're going to have to steer clear of the
dropping blade and watch the rolling heads. When I've been
waiting for something, and promised the moon and stars, not
for days or weeks or even months, but years, I really don't like
to be disappointed.
Waiting five long years for a new Nine Inch Nails CD, only to
be delivered the non-stop "I'm-such-a-big-loser" bitchathon
that is The Fragile, is like being teased into a state of
rapturous sexual frenzy, only to discover that, when it's time
to get down to business, your lover is impotent. The Fragile
isn't the worst record released in 1999, but I liked it a lot
better in 1994, when it was half as long, and called The
Downward Spiral. I feel like the South Park kids did when the
Carnival Barker forced them to pay $5,000 for defective
Terence and Phillip dolls. And I must call Shenanigans on Trent
It's been half a decade since Trent Reznor produced The
Downward Spiral, an album so emotionally raw and explosively
angry, it found an instant audience, not just among ostracized
losers, but with everyone. Rage is universal, and Reznor
tapped into that rage in a way that gave him instantaneous
worldwide celebrity. Everyone bought that fucking album and a
song with the chorus "I want to fuck you like an animal"
became a top ten radio hit. You're not likely to see that
happen again any time soon. Maybe that's the genesis of the
whole problem. Maybe Trent figured that, having almost single
handedly given pop music a radical face lift with The
Downward Spiral, he could do it again by just making the same
album, only twice as long. ("Gee, it seemed like a good idea at
It would be so much easier if I could say that this record flat
out sucks. But this is not the case, and woe is me, for I am
torn. Musically, The Fragile is not devoid of impressive
moments. There are gorgeous piano glissandos, delicate
keyboards, and aural landscapes of mind-bending complexity,
dense tribal rhythms, barrages of riveting synthcore and a
moment or two where Trent gets down and gets funky! Adrian
Belew's signature guitar figures are written all over "Just Like
You Imagined" and Bill Rieflin's indelible percussive touches
buoy the nearly perfect (i.e. very few lyrics) "La Mer." If this
were an album of instrumentals or, better still, a film
soundtrack, it would certainly rate as a most ambitious,
creative and genuinely stirring accomplishment in experimental
soundscapes. Unfortunately, Trent has to open his mouth and
ruin everything. The many instrumentals (three on the Left
disc alone) provide much-needed respite from otherwise
incessant, unmitigated, self- indulgent whining.
It's hard to pick a starting point, since The Fragile is so
heavily flawed, but itís quite clear that Trent's songwriting
ability has launched itself into the ionosphere of badness.
These lyrics are obvious, pedestrian, pretentious and just plain
bogus. And we've heard every one of these songs before. In
five years, the world has changed, but Trent is the same guy,
the tortured soul of rock and roll. The Fragile sounds like
Reznor spent two years on the music and wrote the lyrics as a
hurried afterthought. It's almost as if he took inspiration for
these thin, verbally overwrought songs from entries in his
teenage journals. Lyrically, The Fragile is at best a bloated,
ineffective amalgam of ideas already done to death on The
Downward Spiral, coupled with a mediocre retreading of
Broken (where Reznor absolutely would not stop screaming
about how much he hated his then-record label). Yawn.
The Fragile comes with the lyrics printed on the insert, so it's
easy to follow along with Trent going-through-the
motions-of-sincerity. I couldn't uncover one couplet in the
offing that packs either the visceral wallop of "I wanna fuck
you like an animal" (from "Closer") or the delicate emotional
swaddling of "I hurt myself today/to see if I still feel" (from
"Hurt"). Listening to The Downward Spiral, whether Trent's
screaming like a mental patient about being a big man with a
big gun, or whipping out some dead-on rhymes like "My whole
existence is flawed/You get me closer to God," it wasn't
difficult to imagine yourself inside his head. Now I have to
admit I don't know what the fuck he's talking about. Sadder
still, I don't really care. . On the originality scale, Trent's lyrical
subject matter gets a sub- zero rating or a big fat F.
Here's an example From "The Way Out is Through":
"Underneath it all/We feel so small
The Heavens fall/but still we crawl."
Um, okay, whatever.
Behold, a typical, emotionally-stunted line from "The
"Stuck in this hole with the shit and piss."
Here, Trent is, at the very least, guilty of questionable tact.
Check out this evidence of brain death from "Where is
Everybody?" where Trent manages to be both heavy-handed
"Pleading and needing and bleeding and breeding and feeding
I waited five years for this crap? Did he sit down to write with
a rhyming dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other?
Finally, the coup de grace, from "Even Deeper":
"I have everything/Yet I wish I felt something."
If Trent is looking for sympathy because he's feeling less than
fortunate, perhaps he should try reading a daily newspaper.
Maybe it took five years for Reznor to release a new record
because he wanted to keep everyone in suspense for as long
as possible before revealing that he had nothing new to say.
I will now compose a Nine Inch Nails song that could be
substituted for any song on The Fragile. I call it "Life is Fucked
and So Are You." It goes like this:
"Life is fucked and so are you/
You fucked me, now I'll fuck you/
I'm fucking right and you're fucking wrong/
So shut the fuck up and hear my song/
Why bother trying/When you just end up dying."
Oops, I forgot to add the word "Decay" in there somewhere.
News flash Trent: Everybody has problems. We've all
experienced the death of a loved-one, changed jobs, gotten
sick, broken up with lovers and been ripped off. In most cases,
we've survived the shit; gone through it and come out on the
other side. But not Trent Reznor. Trent is Fragile (get it?). It is
important for you to know that he is still depressed, tormented
and angry and he is ready to tell you in excruciating detail just
how much his life sucks. If Trent thinks he is unhappy, he
should join the fucking club. Someone who refuses to take
their Prozac is someone I have no time for.
My guess is that if you forced 100 people -- chosen
completely at random -- to listen to The Fragile in its entirety
(that's both discs), say twice in a row (just to be fair), 20
would fall asleep, 20 would not be impressed one way or the
other, 20 would be driven temporarily insane, 20 would figure
out ways to escape from the room, 19 would plot revenge
against you, and one person would dig it. This is painful for me
to admit, but the hardest part of writing this article was
having to endure the nerve- fraying ordeal of multiple playings
in order to really give The Fragile a fair shake. The Fragile is
by far the most disappointing major release of 1999. You can
quote me on that one.
Some people really dig this album, and it debuted at number
one on the Billboard chart, so someone is buying it. I have a
few friends (who will probably stop speaking to me after they
read this) who worship at the altar of Trent and genuinely
seem enthralled with The Fragile. If this shit floats your boat,
more power to ya. Maybe staying in the relationship is easier
than admitting the thrill is gone, but I'm over it. I'm ready to
file for divorce.
It's time for Trent to spill the whine already. Trent Reznor
once produced a record -- a bona fide work of art, if you will
-- that put him at the forefront of an entire musical genre and
made him the biggest rock star in the world. He is a millionaire
who lives in a mansion (I've seen it!) in one of the most
beautiful cities in America. He is adored by legions of fans and
has influential friends in high places. Trent Reznor has probably
turned down more sex than I've had. And I'm supposed to feel
sorry for this guy? Nigga, please. These lyrics feel 100% in
authentic and do not resonate with me at all. I don't believe a
word he's saying. Trent Reznor has made a career out of being
almost clinically depressed, but I bet he's crying all the way to
If you have no exposure to the music of Nine Inch Nails and
wonder what all the hysteria is about, save yourself the $25
or, better, invest in a copy of Pretty Hate Machine and The
Downward Spiral. Trent will never be able to transcend the
material on those two groundbreaking albums and I believe
that The Fragile will be his last important release. If you
already own his catalog, pick up the new Filter CD, Title of the
Record, or go retro and snag a copy of the amazing, newly
released Best Ov Psychic TV. The Fragile is bullshit on a bun
and it doesn't take 20/20 vision to see that the Emperor is
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.