The Fragile

By DARRYL STERDAN for Winnipeg Sun on October 1, 1999

The passage of time as you and I know it seems to be a concept that has little meaning for Trent Reznor.

For instance, we're pretty sure he doesn't own a calendar. After all, it's been five years -- several lifetimes in pop music -- since Reznor's one-man industrial-electronic outfit Nine Inch Nails released its last album The Downward Spiral, a bleak, visceral maelstrom of beautiful melodies, bludgeoning jackhammer beats, bestial sex and boundless self-loathing.

Since then, the music scene has changed more often than Cher in concert. Perkiness, bubblegum and Limp Bizkit have replaced nihilism, grunge and Nirvana. An endless parade of disposable popsters has eroded our attention span so thoroughly that sitting through a whole CD seems a major investment of time.

So what does Reznor do? He releases The Fragile, a mammoth, demanding double-CD set -- 23 tracks totalling more than an hour and a half. (So now we're fairly certain he doesn't own a watch, either.) Brimming over with betrayal, bitterness and broken hearts, The Fragile could very well be the darkest, most challenging, most completely un-commercial release of the year.

Luckily for us all, it's also one of the most artistic and fascinating discs of '99 -- even though it doesn't really sound much different from '94. Sure, there seem to be a few more guitars to go with the banks of synthesizers, and a greater ratio of moody instrumentals to blistering rockers this time out. But Reznor's faithful will nevertheless find The Fragile instantly familiar. Heartfelt sentiment still shares a bed with frank depravity. Elegantly minimalist melodies still slam up against punishing, white-noise cacophonies. Whispering voices still build to blood-curdling roars. And oddly enough, it still works.

Maybe it's the lengthy downtime, or maybe it's today's teenybopper landscape, but for some reason Trent's throbbing synths, menacing guitars and primal screams seem every bit as fresh and powerful as ever -- if not more so.

Equally impressive is the way such a sprawling, varied work manages to hang together. While some of the individual tracks don't really seem to pack much punch -- when the suicide-solution single The Day The World Went Away was released on its own a few weeks back, we were unimpressed -- Reznor's stream-of-consciousness composition style and jump-cut arrangements somehow splice them into a grand, sweeping epic that adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. No wonder he claims he was unable to cut it down to a single CD.

Frankly, we're glad he couldn't. On second thought, we're just glad he managed to release anything. Given Reznor's concern with deadlines, The Fragile could easily have been three years later and three discs longer. But we doubt it would have been three times as good.

Track Listing

Disc 1 - Left
1. Somewhat Damaged (4.31)
2. The Day The World Went Away (4.33)
3. The Frail (1.54)
4. The Wretched (5.25)
5. We're In This Together (7.16)
6. The Fragile (4.35)
7. Just Like You Imagined (3.49)
8. Even Deeper (5.48)
9. Pilgrimage (3.31)
10. No, You Don't (3.35)
11. La Mer (4.37)
12. The Great Below (5.17)

Disc 2 - Right
1. The Way Out Is Through (4.17)
2. Into the Void (4.49)
3. Where Is Everybody? (5.40)
4. The Mark Has Been Made (5.15)
5. Please (3.30)
6. Starfuckers, Inc. (5.00)
7. Complication (2.30)
8. I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally (4.13)
9. The Big Come Down (4.12)
10. Underneath it All (2.46)
11. Ripe [With Decay] (6.34)

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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