Halo 14 : The Fragile

By Ben Rayner for Toronto Star on October 1, 1999

The Downward Spiral album, the bigger the hole he dug himself.

If he returned spewing the same anguished, soft/loud pop-industrial shenanigans that made him the Goth(ish) Nirvana on 1989's Pretty Hate Machine and a certified (or certifiable) studio genius on Spiral, he'd be dismissed as a one-trick pony. If he changed things up too much or latched on to a new trend, he risked losing his fans or accusations of band-wagon-jumping.

Reznor couldn't win, and the double-disc letdown The Fragile suggests he knows it.

Every busy second bears the mark of meticulous tinkering and tweaking, of fanatical labours to render every corner of the mix just so.

Tracks sound like they're dissolving in acid. Auditory hallucinations swirl like wraiths through eerie piano-and-string interludes. Diseased beats shudder, threaten to tumble out of whack and then wobble back into motion.

It's a stunning-sounding bore, though. Reznor's recordings have always had their plodding moments, but he can usually be counted on to liven things up with a burst of visceral vitriol. The Fragile, unfortunately, is almost exclusively composed of leaden mid-temp dirges short on melodic or lyrical invention.

The mounting anger of the opening track, "Somewhat Damaged," bodes well, but the follow-through doesn't really come until "No, You Don't"...nine tracks later. And it ain't no "Head Like A Hole."

Disc 2, at least, starts bristling with electronic menace around the prophetically titled "Where Is Everybody?" -- a piece of elastic, herky-jerky misanthropy reminiscent of the first Nails single, "Down In It" -- while the KMFDM-like "Starfuckers, Inc." and "Complication" finally sustain the full-bore momentum you wish the rest of the album had. But by the time it's all over, The Fragile's 23 tracks have made precious little lasting impression.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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