CD Review

Nine Inch Nails - "The Fragile"

By Dan Century

The FragileAfter a string of mediocre releases from the "big boys" of industrial music (Ministry, Skinny Puppy, KMFDM) I didn't expect much from Trent Reznor's pop-industrial Nine Inch Nails, especially after five years of wasting his creative energy on producing soundtracks and Marilyn Manson. Even the first singles off The Fragile, The Day It All Went Away and Starfuckers, failed to give me hope for a quality album. Fortunately, my intuition was wrong - The Fragile is, in many ways, a remarkable album.

The Sound
Unexpectedly, Nine Inch Nails has grown again. The influence of hip-hop is evident: from the mixing talents of Dr. Dre, ultra-deep bass throughout, and the rap vocal delivery of Where Is Everybody. This should come as no surprise as most musical innovation of the past 5 years, at least in terms of production, has come from rap. There is still plenty of rock and rage to sink your fangs into: lots of guitar riffs and effects, Kiss samples and ear thrashing beats. Acoustic and electronic textures are woven throughout, often subtle and unexpected. This is definitely Trent's most graceful and mature work to date. Listen to this album on a good stereo - this is a superbly mixed album with great attention to all frequencies of the audio spectrum.

The Mood
Trent is furious, confused, disgusted, disappointed, depressed, desperate - you name it. He's everything but happy. In the midst of all this negative emotion there is plenty of hope too: hope for salvation and hope to help others. Trent balances the harsher, furious moments with delicate piano melodies and gentle, organic instrumentation. To say this album was manic in nature would be extreme - it's more like an acknowledgement of reality, where the strong must become weak, flowers grow amongst stone and dark shares the same page as light.

The Packaging
The Fragile is a double CD, adding up to 104 minutes of music. The cover features a half of the NIN symbol on a depressing gray background occluded by a super-close-up image of a red flower - a juxtaposing of harsh and gentle imagery and precluding themes found in the songs. At least one friend asked: "Is that really the artwork?" It sure is - it's not a printing mistake. One downside to the packaging is the song titles aren't on the disks or the back of the CD case, which is real annoying for DJs, and just about everyone else. The complete lyrics are included, which is always a plus.

The Fragile could have been an excellent single disk album, but instead we get a good double album, why? Aside from the sum five years worth of songwriting, there are many instrumentals, a few poor edits and different song lengths on CD, tape and record, which means NIN fanatics will have to purchase all three.

The Songs
From the LEFT CD

Somewhat Damaged
Sure, who isn't damaged? Trent has made a career out of "damage." There is so much anger in this song - Trent knows how to build tension and really let it fly. I want to punch holes in walls when I hear this song. Arrrggh! "Too fucked up to care anymore!" That's a good attitude…no really, it is. An excellent start for the album.

The Day the World Went Away
Sounds like half a song, or like you turned on the radio in the middle of a song. I want the rest of the song!

The Frail
A gentle melody played on piano. Like raindrops bouncing on a flower petal, or blood drops in a wash basin.

We're In This Together Now
Ugly noise and bare bones beats. A powerful chorus: "You and me, we're in this together now, none of them can stop us now, we will make it through somehow." A straight-edge unity anthem? I hope not.

The Fragile
The best lyrics on the album. Another powerful anthem: "I won't let you fall apart." Instead of just moaning about his own problems, Trent is trying to help others.

Even Deeper
Dr. Dre on the mixing boards? Impressive and unexpected. Creeping Compton beats…guitar and noise cut the groove like high-beams. "Just how damaged have I become." Lots of despair, but cries for help too…a good lyric is better than a trip to the emergency room any day.

La Mer
A reminder that Trent does know how to play a piano. Is this Jazz? Maybe. Great live drums thanks to the best sticks in the biz: Bill Rieflin.

From the RIGHT CD

Into the Void
Best song on the album. I could listen to it five times a day. Proof that he's been listening to a lot of R&B and rap. I can visualize Foxy Brown rapping over the same beat. Almost "Timbaland" beats and distorted keys in place of a bass. A masterpiece of modern rock.

Where Is Everybody?
I don't know either, but who are we talking about? All the people who used Trent over the past five years? Probably. Trent flows effortlessly from rap blanc to rock dirge, served on a platter of crunchy hip-pop beats.

Trent hates Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson. Hey, Trent, join the club. Of course, he has plenty of reasons to be angry: Courtney belittled his manhood in the press, and Brian used him like a dog. Here's proof that Trent can still thrash-rock out, and sample Kiss.

Wild techno electronics, a double-speed rap beat and rock guitar. Too bad it's only an instrumental. A great song to listen too while speeding through the streets of Manhattan - living life like a video game.

Let's face it: if you're a fan of Nine Inch Nails you're going to buy this album with or without my recommendation. This is undoubtedly a new chapter in the Nine Inch Nails saga and unlike other sequels, this was worth waiting for. Don't expect pop hits like Down In It or Closer. Do expect a more subtle, imperfect, mature album. Once you get beyond the new sounds, softer tones and overabundant instrumentals, I believe you'll find an album that deserves your time and attention.

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