Trent Reznor nails `The Fragile'

Originally published in Akron Beacon Journal on September 1, 1999

5-year effort pays off in masterful blending of his battle of good vs. evil There are two sides to Trent Reznor.

Side A is the nice guy with the nice haircut who used to play in a few synth-pop bands around town and sell musical equipment in Parma on the side. Side B is the raging angry young man that smashes instruments and screams bloody murder onstage.

His success -- and the success of his band Nine Inch Nails -- has always been in the difficulty of reconciling those two sides into something workable. All his best songs have been about the Battle of Good vs. Evil inside him and inside all of us.

That battle started with his debut single Head Like a Hole (``I'd rather die than give you control'') and it continues throughout the amazing 100-minute, two-CD odyssey also known as The Fragile, the record it took Reznor five years to complete.

The Fragile finds Reznor just as confused as he was during The Downward Spiral. The first radio single and video, We're in This Together is essentially a love song clad in black leather. With a chorus clear enough to come from the Backstreet Boys (``You and me, we're in this together now/None of them can stop us now''), it's the industrial-funk hybrid and Reznor's screaming that darken the sunny sentiment. On the other hand, The Day the World Went Away features an almost-serene backdrop for lyrics about complete annihilation.

Reznor readily admits that he had a tough time making The Fragile and the sweat shows throughout the album, with phrasing hammered out so it seems near perfect and yet still carefree.

While so much of Downward Spiral was labored and dark, The Fragile taps into Reznor's dance-floor roots a lot more. We're in This Together has a nice little shimmy to it. Even Deeper sounds like O.M.D. meets N.W.A., even featuring mixing help from Dr. Dre. Where Is Everybody? sounds like the funky spawn of Closer and Terrible Lie. Reznor mines the area that he tried to give his protege Marilyn Manson, until the two had a falling-out. However, unlike Manson, Reznor doesn't have to be gratuitous to disturb. He doesn't need stunts to hold people's interest. (Can you imagine Reznor sporting women's breasts to get attention?)

Reznor has sat at the foot of David Bowie and learned about pushing buttons and getting the point across, while still being interesting. And that's what he does in The Fragile. Not only is The Fragile one of the year's most interesting records, it's also one of the most entertaining.

Reznor has found the balance between his two halves, and all is right with the world. For now.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

View the NIN Hotline article index