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Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile CD (album) cover


Nine Inch Nails


Crossover Prog

3.80 | 111 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars It's no secret that Trent Reznor was caught up in the throes of full-blown drug addiction when he made "The Fragile." In the 5 years that followed his brilliant "The Downward Spiral" album his substance abuse problem worsened and, I suspect, almost did him in. However, these two discs are imaginative and creative despite his afflictions, not because of them. The fact that he was able to produce quality material with the albatross of self-destruction hanging around his neck is further proof of the stubborn spark of genius in him that refused to accept defeat. The lyric content is disturbing and depressing but what else would one expect from a soul so tortured and diseased? I admire his rock bottom honesty but, better yet, I'm glad that he eventually emerged from his dungeon, got help and survived to remain a major influence in the evolution of modern music.

I was late in experiencing this record. Not due to any reticence about Nine Inch Nails but just the circumstances of life in general. When I finally got my chance the opening song, "Somewhat Damaged," assured me within seconds that I was going to like what I was about to hear. It's one of the coolest beginnings I've ever come across and it draws the listener right in. Trent's expressive voice reassured me that, as before, nothing will be held back as he cries out painfully but poetically "Lick around divine debris/taste the wealth of hate in me/shedding skin succumb defeat/this machine is obsolete." The 9/8 time signature gives the tune a great, slightly off-kilter aura and I'm always pleased when an artist chooses to put the album's best number up front. He segues directly into "The Day the World Went Away" where a peaceful break lulls you into false relaxation prior to edgy guitars barging in rudely. Reznor then drags you into his Salvador Daliesque dimension for a revealing verse ("I'd listen to the words he'd say/but in his voice I heard decay"), followed by the erection of a gargantuan-sized wall of sound. "The Frail" is a short piece of haunting minimalist piano enhanced by a ghostly backdrop that leads directly to "The Wretched." Its throbbing rhythm pulsates under a demonic guitar riff during the verses and an infectious, ascending synth line dominates the chorus while he enunciates his despair via words like "the hopes and prays/the better days/the far aways/forget it." Midway through he tosses it all into a blender to build an enthralling effect that's stunning. On "We're in this Together" he teases at first with abstract snippets of an approaching aural electrical storm and then settles into a stark motif for the verses. The chorus is highly intense and though it would seem that Trent is shouting encouragement to his lover ("You're the queen and I'm the king/nothing else means anything") it's as if he's singing to her from inside a cage.

Drums pound ominously in "The Fragile" as Reznor gives the impression that he's inches from your ear, wistfully telling of his lady's charms with lines like "She shines in a world full of ugliness/she matters when everything is meaningless." The 2nd chorus is stronger and then he takes you on another surprising detour into surrealism, later bringing the roof down on you with buzz saw guitars and an impassioned vocal. "Just Like You Imagined" is a superb instrumental. Its mysterious intro opens into a 9/8 pattern that grabs your attention and won't let go. This is the type of angular stuff that Trent captivates me with. "Even Deeper" follows with sonar pings probing the dark depths while a stringent beat sets the stage for him to seek a different route into your subconscious. "Do you know how far this has gone?/just how damaged have I become?/when I think I can overcome/it runs even deeper," he intones. The beautiful floating notes that drift in are sublime. The instrumental "Pilgrimage" brings to mind some kind of riotous mob on their way to loot and pillage and I'm fascinated by his juxtaposition of a festive parade processional atop a broiling sense of impending mayhem. In "No, You Don't" a heavy rock beat drives this power-chord pile-driver but he lets the drums get too busy and the tune loses momentum repeatedly. The mostly instrumental "La Mer" is next and it's a great demonstration of Reznor's uncanny ability to sculpt beauty in ways I've never encountered. He employs slightly-out-of-tune instrumentation, placing it tactfully over droning piano while drums enter to push the song into a phantasmagorical swirl before returning to the serene intro. He closes disc #1 ("Left") with "The Great Below," a sobering tune of resignation if there ever was one. "I descend from grace/In arms of undertow/I will take my place/In the great below," he sings.

Disc #2 ("Right") starts with the brief "The Way Out is Through" that sounds like a man clawing wearily in a tunnel. On "Into the Void" a cello plays atop a series of plinks and plunks till the drums establish a firm foundation for a fat synthesizer riff. Typical of NIN, you'll encounter sounds you've never heard before as Trent vents his angst with lyrics such as "I tried to save a place from the cuts and the scratches/tried to overcome the complications and the catches/nothing ever grows and the sun doesn't shine all day/tried to save myself but myself keeps slipping away." During "Where is Everybody?" a serpentine feel propels a subtle drone while Trent semi-raps his frustrations over an array of distorted guitars and odd synth noises. An intriguing instrumental follows, "The Mark has Been Made." A Peter Gabriel-ish atmosphere characterizes the first movement until a strange stringed device intervenes, paving the way for a burst of dense heaviness that grows and then retreats into the void. Punchy drums lay down an almost "normal" underpinning for the rocking "Please" yet Reznor doesn't play it safe, opting to let the song go where it will with all of us in tow. "This is how it begins/push it away but it all comes back again/all the flesh, all the sin/there was a time when it used to mean just about everything," he bemoans. "Starf**kers, Inc." drifts in like a sandstorm and then presents a fast-paced agenda intended to imprint a crass but memorable refrain and I never thought I'd come across a nod to a Carly Simon tune on a NIN album but it's there. Satirizing the groupie mentality he snarls, "I'll be there for you as long as it works for me/I play a game/it's called insincerity."

An insane dulcimer effect leads into some energetic madness inside the instrumental "Complication" but it's nothing remarkable. The caustic "I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally" was written for his late grandma and his words betray his unrelieved anger over her passing. "There is a hate that burns within/the most desperate place I have ever been," he relates. A funky groove anchors "The Big Come Down," a bitter tirade that exudes a house-of-mirrors, equilibrium-wrecking aroma. On "Underneath It All" a furious percussive effect steams below Reznor's sing-song melody, releasing a raw conflict of emotions. "Numb all through/I can still feel you/hear your call underneath it all/kill my brain/yet you still remain crucified/after all I've died/after all I've tried/you are still inside," his muddled gray matter announces. At the end his voice coolly deteriorates like a bad cell phone signal. He closes with "Ripe (With Decay)." A sinister, airy mood descends and alights on a dark drone before a mass of notes and noises congeal and then dissipate into a pensive flow of intertwining melodies. The number's overriding suspense emanates from never knowing where he's going to take you next.

It should be obvious that if you're looking for a get-your-day-off-to-a-bright-start sort of deal than you'd best skip "The Fragile." But if you're ready to delve deeply into the sordid world of a heroin-obsessed psyche and objectively view it as a work of serious, meaningful progressive art then this is well worth your while. However, it's not as cohesive as "The Downward Spiral" and I feel that if Trent had edited this down to one disc he would've had a much more comprehensive album but in his fractured state of mind I have no doubt that more was deemed better than less and it worked against him. In the final analysis, though, Reznor's outside-the-box thought process is still uniquely invigorating and he'll never be accused of being boring. 3.9 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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