The Fragile

Nine Inch Nails

Nothing / Interscope Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Trent Reznor might have one of the most difficult jobs in the world of alternative rock. After the breakthrough success of his one-man group Nine Inch Nails's debut album Pretty Hate Machine, Reznor has faced the unenviable task of having to try to outdo himself with each successive release.

It seems like an eternity has passed since Nine Inch Nails last graced us with a full-length release. The Downward Spiral contained some absolute moments of brilliance, angst, anger and existentialism that would have had Jean-Paul Sartre saying that things had gone too far. The disc also brought Nine Inch Nails two surprise hits in "Closer" and "Hurt," the latter starting a dangerous trend as the band started experimenting with ballads. For the past two years, long-time fans have waited and waited to see what Reznor had to offer as a return volley.

That volley finally came in the form of The Fragile, a two-disc, 100-minute set that proves an old saying true: less is more.

If you've felt apprehension by some of the reports that this album is Reznor at his happiest, relax... there's enough loathing and angst on this album to wipe the smile off a clown. And just in case that one parent who keeps getting albums banned from Wal-Mart sees his kid walk in the door with this one, let's just say that my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Fragile makes sure it earns the dreaded "Parental Advisory" sticker. How could it not with such a charmingly named song as "Starfuckers, Inc."?

The Fragile opens up strongly enough with tracks like "Somewhat Damaged," a tune which sounds like it could have easily come from the period of Broken. Other tracks, like "The Wretched," "We're In This Together" and the title track all show the signs that prove Reznor's brilliance.

But the early dive into ballad land on "The Day The World Went Away" is a harbinger of things to come - and the picture isn't pretty. Reznor makes use of instrumentals far too often on The Fragile - or, at the least, extended instrumental periods in songs. For an artist whose power comes from the written word combined with the challenging progression of his songs, it almost seems like Reznor uses these pieces to fill in the creative blanks - not a good sign.

The first half of The Fragile (charmingly subtitled "Left" - disc two is named "Right") weakens witha series of pieces that dares to suggest this might be a concept album. The way that "Even Better," "Pilgrimage," "No, You Don't," "La Mer" and "The Great Below" fit together is a little too ordered to have been an accident. If only there were some power behind this track grouping, it might have had a kick like a mule.

The second half of The Fragile is better, though the mistakes made on the first half are still made (albeit on a lesser scale). Tracks like "Into The Void" dare to suggest that Reznor is trying to be a pop star in the line of Marilyn Manson, while "Starfuckers, Inc." - a good track on its own - is grating mostly for the chorus, not for the music that, at one time, could send your spinal column crumbling.

The Fragile is the kind of disc that could have easily gone under the razor blade to become a more cohesive album. It doesn't have to sound pissed all the time, but there just seems to be too much shift in mood to be followable. And maybe - just maybe - if this album had been shorter and not so jam-packed with instrumentals, Reznor could have focused his energies into making an album that could have done a Texas two-step on even Pretty Hate Machine.

The Fragile is the kind of album that the diehard fans will find little fault with, and it does have its moments - but it's far from the masterpiece that Reznor would have liked to have created. This one is too ambitious, it's too disjointed... it's just simply too much.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Nothing / Interscope Records, and is used for informational purposes only.