The Fragile : Trent Reznor finds soul in prettiest machine yet.
Soul is the most important thing. It's what
separates the OK band with that kinda catchy song
from the artist.
Believe it or not, nine inch nails frontman Trent
Reznor has soul to spare. He tries to convince you
otherwise — the man covers his albums in gigantic
guitar and cold, mechanical sounds, and his lyrics
celebrate nihilism and despair. Hell, five years ago he
insisted he "has no soul to sell" in the hit "Closer"
(probably one of the few songs equally likely to be
played at a strip club and a mosh pit).
But the soul is still there. It's how his whispers
sound like screams. It's how his instrumentals say
more than most bands' lyrics do. It's how nine inch
nails has the ability to say what its millions of fans
The Fragile, the long-awaited new release by nine
inch nails, is the sound of a soul being ripped apart,
burned and rediscovered, thrown across two CDs.
While double albums have gotten a bad rep as
prog-rock overkill, The Fragile has so many startling
musical ideas that two albums are almost not enough
to contain it.
The music has an inherent groove to it — not
funk-metal, mind you — but a grinding, ebbing
mobility underneath it, especially on tracks such as
"Please" and "The Wretched." It's also littered with
bizarre, off-kilter percussion that would make Tom
Waits or David Bryne proud — such as the marimba
on "Into The Void" or the jazz-styling of "La Mer."
Oh, yeah, and it's heavy, too. But not in any sort
of clichéd, modern-rock radio way. "No, You Don't,"
"Where Is Everybody," and the first single (the nearly
eight-minute-long "We're In This Together"), are both
relentlessly ear-bleeding and relentlessly inventive.
Tempos bend, muted harmonies rush to the
foreground and impossible sounds dance around.
Reznor, along with vastly-underrated cohorts Danny
Lohmer and Charlie Clouser, uses the studio to
redefine what the guitar can do.
The instrumental track "Pilgrimage" has massive
down-tuned guitar blasts that Limp Bizkit would kill
for. And it's got a marching band. And the sound of
studio assistants jumping up and down on cardboard
boxes. It's probably pretty obvious by now that The
Fragile is something different.
In fact, it's fun to listen to this album at full blast
on headphones and play, "What the heck is that?"
Found sounds include a Kiss sample, a saw and
choirs of backup singers, which float around beneath
the crunch. The sounds are so well-manipulated that
everything fits into a cohesive flow.
Or one can spend that headphone time absorbing
Reznor's gift for melody. Even at it's hardest, The
Fragile is endlessly catchy. The
Marilyn-Manson-biting "Starfuckers, Inc." (which is a
nice reference to Tori Amos' purportedly
anti-Courtney Love blast "Professional Widow")
makes a catchy refrain out of the title and then out of
nowhere steals that classic Carly Simon line: "You're
so vain/I bet you think this song is about you/don't
The album opener, "Somewhat Damaged," starts
out with an acoustic guitar plucking out four notes
and ends with the instantly memorable line, "It's
funny how/everything you swore would never
change/is different now."
Double albums are typically associated with
overall concepts. In this case, Reznor injects
something new into his tales of despair — a trace of
hope. The Downward Spiral, the band's 1994 concept
album about suicide, included the lines, "I hurt myself
today/to see if I still feel." On The Fragile, songs
such as "We're In This Together" and the title track
suggest Reznor has something to live for after all. To
call them "love songs" does them no justice, but the
lines, "Fragile/she doesn't see her beauty/she tries to
get away/sometimes/it's just that nothing seems
worth saving/I can't watch her slip away/I won't let
you fall apart," express devotion much better than
anything R. Kelly will ever do.
In a desolate music industry now dominated by
questionably talented one-hit wonder acts, it's nice to
see something with soul — even if it is a little fragile.
Michael Tedder - Senior Staff Writer
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.