The Fragile

By Miguel Banuelos for Outer Sound Magazine on November 1, 1999

Ever since his arrival on the musical cutting edge, Trent Reznor has been a damaged man. He has always attempted to wear his heart on his sleeve and show the world his bubble of fear, pain and remorse. In the era of industrial and grunge, he was our wounded hero, one who was just as likely to draw sighs of sympathy, as well as blood.

But the world has definitely changed since 1991. Music has made leaps and bounds, especially in the world of concussive beats that was the NIN domain. Split from the simply hard industrial school came the rap/metal hybrids who reach out to the testosterone driven youths and supply the much needed head banging, while the rise of drum and bass has come to deliver those who still need a beat with their aggression. So where does this leave the Nine Inch Nails sound? Is The Fragile hard enough for the Korn kids or electronically viable enough for candy ravers? To do so, the latest Nine Inch Nails venture would have to not only evolve sonically, but also provide enough fuel to leave the listener glued to his/her headphones with such an assault of sound and texture that Reznor would truly be due the crown of master innovator so many proffer he so richly deserves.

Unfortunately, the new NIN delivers on neither of these propositions. After such a long wait and such rumored innovation, The Fragile offers no new insight into the mind of creator, nor does it offer new avenues for the morose. This record is simply a new Nine Inch Nails record. The song structures are the same, as well as the subject matter. Once again, its pretty obvious: Trent Reznor is not happy. But since 1994, it seems he has yet to find a new way to express this sadness. Each song wallows in self-importance and, unlike past ventures, leaves the listener detached and a bit bored. Tracks like "We're In this Together" and "Where Is Everybody?" compel the listener to read the lyric sheet and immediately stand out as strong tracks, but otherwise, as the cd plays you will find yourself concentrating less on the songs and more on the hope that the next song is better.

Besides boring the listener analytically, The Fragile also fails to achieve new heights sonically. While 1994's Downward Spiral brought this sonic texture to the mainstream, in 1999, the style seems tired and uninspired. This is the biggest disappointment. What's worse is that during the standout tracks like "Starfuckers, Inc.," we actually get a glimpse at what could have been. The track avoids the dirge-like drone which haunts the rest of the record and opts for an almost drum and bass type breakbeat that highlights the aggression sought by the biting lyrics. But this track stands alone as Reznor's attempt to step into the new millennium. Otherwise he is glad to continue a sound which was vital at the beginning of the decade, but a bore at the end of it.

It just seems that for all of the pomp and circumstance of this double album, The Fragile could have been well served with a cut hungry editor. But this grandiose statement and its overblown sentiments are all symptoms of the same disease of self-importance. Reznor is making his cries for help and his anger take center stage without regard for the needs of his listeners and the evolution of music in the last 5 years. On "Even Deeper," he screeches "I wish I felt something." You know what, Trent, so do I.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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