The Fragile

By R. William Wednesday for Gothic.net Magazine on October 1, 1999

I don't even know where to begin with this review. This album has been highly anticipated, going on five years now, since the 1994 multi-platinum success of The Downward Spiral. Many different people were expecting many different things about this album, from the drum 'n' bass stylings of "The Perfect Drug", to rap duets with Dr. Dre (who did indeed assist in mixing a track). But, this two CD set is neither of those. What is it? Brilliant. No, not quite: musically the 23 songs are brilliant; very modern, very mature and fully realized. However, the one thing that knocked this album down a few notches (but not far) were the lyrics. Trent Reznor has moved in a similar lyrical direction as recent Robert Smith. Like Smith, he has written sad songs for so long that he is running out of ways to describe his feelings, and often they become trite, bordering almost on cheesy. Don't get me wrong, not all of the songs fail that way, but after my first listen, I will not sit down to study the lyric sheet, as I did with the previous albums. I have aged five years since The Downward Spiral, I have aged nine years since Pretty Hate Machine, so have you, and so has Trent, and you can tell. He has taken many chances with his choice of music styles, his intermingling of six instrumentals (which are some of the best tracks he has ever recorded) and the sheer length of the album, coming in close to 2 hours. This album may alienate some of Reznor's heavy metal audience with only two or three consistently hard-rocking songs, as well as his stripper audience. Sorry, no songs about sex this time.

The tracks which stand out most in my mind are the stunning opener, "Somewhat Damaged", "The Day the World Went Away" (an excellent choice for the first single), the instrumental "The Mark Has Been Made" (MY GOD! That's a great track!), and the Ministry-influenced little ditty "Starfuckers, Inc." (which, in my opinion, gives Marilyn Manson a well deserved slap in the face, and is also the only stand-out dance floor single), and finally "The Big Come Down" which is far from it. Was the album worth the wait? Definitely. Was it worth the two-CD price? Well...it could have been knocked down to one disc, without taking out any of the instrumentals. This release is a lot closer to the eclectic attitude of The Downward Spiral than Pretty Hate Machine. Diehard fans will embrace it wholeheartedly, some fair-weather fans will wane and pick it up used from the newcomers who expected a more mainstream, sing-a-long arena release.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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