Fragile Impressions

By Carolyn Hillard for Suite101.com on September 1, 1999

The reviews are in and everybody who's anybody among the music critics is giving Trent Reznor high marks and flowery praise for his latest effort, The Fragile. With that in mind, the last thing I thought I needed to do was add another analytical critique, particularly since I'm not a music professional. Instead, I'm going to give some of my very subjective impressions of the things I liked most about this album. And there are many things I did like, some of which were a huge surprise to me.

One of the things I've always liked about Reznor is his ability to put a more mature slant on an old childhood theme. A lot of his lyrics sound like a grownup version of 'Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Guess I'll go eat worms.' The Fragile is no exception. Just a lot more sophisticated in the approach.

I like the strange rhythms, deceptively simple sounding layers, built slowly on top of one another. The biggest surprise of the album is how much I liked the instrumentals. About a third of the album is instrumental and I've never been partial to those interludes before, but I loved the burst of rippling piano in "Just Like You Imagined" and the delicate to eerie and almost sinister shift in feeling in "La Mer", another lovely piano based piece. It sounds delicate and almost innocent in places. "The Great Below" continues with that delicacy that I don't remember hearing in past albums.

"No, You Don't" is notable for the sneering quality in Reznor's vocal delivery.

Though there are plenty of good moments on the Left CD, it's the songs and instrumentals on the Right CD that I prefer. "Into the Void" has to be one of my favorite cuts on the album. It has a solid funky beat and is my obvious contender for dance tune and maybe the slickest entry.

"Where is Everybody?" has a catchy 'Trent raps' kind of feeling. I can see this as a crowd sing along song on tour. "Please" follows and veers back into a rock sound, though with the very unique Reznor edge thrown into it.

"Starfuckers, Inc." sounds a lot better on the album than on the single, in my opinion. Why this should be I haven't quite placed my finger on yet. Maybe it's the placement on the album. It leads into "Complication", my favorite instrumental on the album -- a great, exotic rush of sound, hard driving.

"I'm Looking Forward to Joining You Finally" has a beat poetry feel to the sound in my opinion. It also gets the 'most poetic lyrics' designation with lines like: "In the blur of serenity where did everything get lost? the flowers of naivete buried in a layer of frost..."

"The Big Come Down" is one of the most self analytical cuts. Interesting vocals, alternately harsh and then melodic, high and sweet on the chorus. It's the sweet contrast that makes this another one of my favorites.

Ripe (with decay), the instrumental that fades out the album, is mostly notable to me for the sound of flies buzzing through. Is that a little bit of instrumental humor I detect? Maybe just wishful thinking on my part.

Overall, I think the album is another masterful job of taking the most simple beats imaginable and embellishing them until they resemble nothing I've heard before in quite the same way. Certainly not anything I've heard on MTV in the past year. Is a double CD with this approach excessive? Surprisingly again, no. To borrow another lyric from the album, even after repeated listens it'll probably "Never be enough to fill me up..."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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