The Fragile Review
Originally published in Billboard Magazine on September 1, 1999
It would be hard to overestimate the influence of 1994's "The Downward Spiral," an epochal creation, culturally and commercially. Yet for all the nihilistic digi-rock spawn of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails since, none has found the measure of that album's resonant mix of rumination and aggression. At this point, expectations are impossibly high for the long-gestating follow-up. But with "The Fragile," Reznor hasn't met the challenge so much as exploded it with a grandly ambitious 23-song, two-disc set-one that manages to echo David Bowie's "Station To Station," classic Pink Floyd, and My Bloody Valentine within a very personal aural universe. There are cracks in the code here: The acutely stated angst of Reznor's lyrical voice has little of the manifold abstraction of his music, and a pile-driving item like "Starfuckers Inc." seems like filler compared with the sophistication of the title track or the symphonic instrumentals "Just Like You Imagined" and "La Mer." At root, Reznor is a sensualist, a conjurer; the ghost in his machines sings a siren song of dark, decadent beauty, proffering les fleurs du mal in sound. Whether or not it replicates previous successes, "The Fragile" represents forward motion, a new couplet in Reznor's poetry of noise.
Transcribed by Keith Duemling