ALBUM OF THE WEEK : The Fragile (Nothing/Interscope/Universal)

By NEALA JOHNSON for Beat Magazine on September 1, 1999

23 NIN songs over two discs, and you'd be inclined to say "concept album" and leave it at that. But that would be missing the point. Every recording Nine Inch Nails (or, more accurately, Trent Reznor) have ever made has been a "concept" of some sort. On this album he collaborated with producer Alan Moulder, the two disc notion evolving when, Reznor says, "we had crossed the line of 74 minutes on a CD...It just felt better. It's kind of like Side A and Side B of an album." This last statement becomes very clear when listening to The Fragile. You'll find that when disc one is finished, there'll be no sense of completion until you hear disc two. If you play disc two on it's own, you'll know you missed the prelude. In this way, The Fragile is a very cohesive, if not lengthy, piece of work. it is not just a rerun of the idea that made up The Downward Spiral. Of course, those strikingly individual Nine Inch Nails traits (you can decided here what you think they are) still abound, but there is evidence here that Reznor has spent the past few years doing more than getting fat and wasting time with David Bowie. The album starts with the discordant, militaristic beats of Somewhat Damaged (also a very cool title to begin an album). though they very beginning of the song, a sneaking acoustic bounce, will have you imagining cats slinking their way onto a stage musical. so it is obvious, from the beginning, that this is a very visual collection of music-everything, ev-er-ee-thing, creates an atmosphere, puts you in a place, has you seeing things that may not be there. The Wretched used piano in a way not dissimilar to Pulp's This Is hardcore, building tension and glamour until the head mashing guitars are sent in for the kill. We're In This Together takes its initial structure from the complex beats of hip hop, crossing into the territory of bands like Limp Bizkit, but the chorus is unmistakably NIN. They lyrics of the chorus are also a trademark-is Reznor showing love in his suffering, "you and me, we're in this together now, you and me, if the world should break in two", or is he threatening to take his enemy down with him? It's also an obvious choice for a single, the memorable chorus being the stuff of pure pop.

The title track mutates guitars to sound like a cross between a didgeridoo and a chainsaw, with Reznor singing metronomically over the drum beats. Again, the principal refrain, "I won't let you fall apart", is delivered as memorable as hell. This moves into the funky drums and Depeche Mode stylings of Just Like You Imagined, which in turn meets the atmospheric Even Deeper, a sleeper of a track that will move you into the forefront the more you hear it. It mixes some small dance music touches with underwater sonics and eventually twangy country guitar and rising strings. The petulant No You Don't takes the dancefloor dynamics one step further, still chopping it up with swathes of guitar. The old fashioned piano mixed with funky bass and beats on La Mer is one of the most interesting and beautiful moments on the album. Disc One (or Left) finishes darkly with The Great Below.

On Disc Two (or Right) the industrial-funk pop of Into The Void is an immediate highlight. It's followed by the inviting industrial funk blues of Where Is Everybody. There are those songs, whilst given titles (Complication) which are just extended segues between one track and another. But this is often where NIN gets really interesting, amazingly managing to shapeshift from abrasive loudness (Starfuckers Inc) into trembling tenderness (I'm Looking Forward To Joining You Finally) , with that bit in between touching on all extremes. The Big Come Down takes a strange Eastern approach to drum'n'bass, with melodic vocal interludes. It collides with the noisy chant of Underneath It All. The album closer, Ripe (With Decay), is the sound of being stuck in a traffic jam, as the rain pours down, knowing Travis Bickle is somewhere behind you, closing in with every second; and the ending is abrupt. Vocally Reznor also takes it to extremes, and some of his arrangements are brilliant. He's always been a deft hand at screaming to rip your heart out one instance, then whispering (so well mixed that it feels as though he's crawling into your ear) to unsettle you, or seduce you. Lyrically Reznor says, "there's a general theme to the album of systems failing and things sort of falling apart," so take his word for it. What is striking about The Fragile is how quickly it presents itself as an excellent album-find your favourite songs straight away, and all the years waited will disappear. Being so long and involved, it will probably fill up your next few years as well. No disappointment here.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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