The Fragile

By Jeff Apter for Rolling Stone Australia on October 1, 1999

As of this moment, you can forget Courtney Love and her mouthy hyperbole, or Marilyn Manson's hate-your-parents freakshow. Trent Reznor has returned to remind us just who is the 1990's most intriging artist. And unlike this other pair of reprobates, Reznor has-in the main-let his music do the talking. But with the exception of his Lost Highway soundtrack diversion-oh, and the year he spent imprisoned in the studio manning the controls for Manson's Antichrist Superstar-all's been quiet on the Reznor front for a good five years. Yep, half a decade has slid by since The Downward Spiral pinned back several million pairs of ears in 1994-and Reznor celebrated by dancing a madmans's waltz in the Woodstock mud. Not surprisingly, a lot of history has gone into the blockbuster production that is The Fragile. Reznor has had to deal with the runaway success of Nine Inch Nails (a band who exist pretty much in name only), the death of his dearly beloved grandmother, and the unavoidable commerical and artistic pressures that accompany a platinum-plus hit such as The Downward Spiral. Taking all these personal and professional Achilles heels into consideration-and then milking for the choice subject matter they so clearly provide-Reznor's emerged with a pretty damned spectacular piece of work. The Fragile is a 23-track, 100 minute-long opus of anguish, loaded with imagination, dexterity and enough nasty sonic thrills to leave you gasping.

Contrary as ever, Reznor hasn't exactly packed The Fragile with singles in waiting. Sure, there's one track that screams out for airplay, with its warp speed riffage, anthemic chorus and inspired steal from Carly Simon's "You're So Vain": that would be "Starfuckers, Inc", which DJs are just going to love backannouncing. No, rather than cranking out the alt-rock hits, Reznor-rock and roll's very own Richard Wagner-has approached this sprawling, engrossing epic as one massive piece of music, a post-grunge symphony. Vocal tracks are interspersed with such instrumental moodpieces as the metallic crunch of "Pilgrimmage" and at the other end of the scale, "Ripe", which is all low-key, electro-blues acoustics. There's even a hint of David Sylvian exotica during "Into The Void", that is until Reznor's trademark-that throbbing, relentless industrial-rock pulse and tsunami-sized guitars-kicks in and drags the track elsewhere.

Still every analysts's dream patient, Reznor's headspace was, clearly, as fucked up as ever while making The Fragile. Look no further than such tracks as "The Day The World Went Away", "The Great Below", "The Way Out Is Through.." and "I'm Looking Forward To Joining You Finally"-or the album's startling opener, "Somewhat Damaged", with its "too fucked up to care anymore" chant-they're all none-too-subtle dredges through Reznor's tormented psyche. He's somehow managed to reduce Billy Corgan's worst nightmares to mere walks in the existential park. But what he does share with the head Pumpkin is a large-scale vision, an uncanny kanck to mould great rock and roll art out of the kind of inner turmoil that'd keep even Stephen King up at night. While he could still use an editor, sometimes desparately-and therapy's gotta be cheaper-Trent Reznor continues to shock and startle with the dark beauty of The Fragile.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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