"The Fragile" (Nothing/Island CIDD8091)

Originally published in Kerrang! on September 1, 1999

KKKKK (Classic)

Trent Reznor finally unveils his dark and doomy double LP.

It has been referred to as "The Most Important Album Of The Decade", its creator "The Most Influential Man In Music".

Certainly, "The Fragile" is the most anticipated rock record of 1999 - not least because it has been five long years in the making but also because Trent Reznor, the enigma behind Nine Inch Nails, is among the most gifted and least predictable artists of his generation.

So why so long coming? A combination of personal trauma and a heavy extra-curricular workload. Since the last Nine Inch Nails album, "The Downward Spiral", was released in 1994 - one month before Kurt Cobain died - Reznor has completed a lengthy world tour with NIN, produced Marilyn Manson's "Antichrist Superstar" album, and compiled the soundtracks to two of the most intriguing and controversial movies of the '90s, "Lost Highway" and "Natural Born Killers". He even found time to produce an album for ex-Judas Priest singer Rob Halford's robo-pop band Two. And, most importantly, he has completed more than 30 new Nine Inch Nails tracks, of which 23 are featured on this astonishing double album.

Ultimately, "The Fragile" is worth the wait and equal to the hype. The sound is readily identifiable as Nine Inch Nails, the songs a logical progression from "The Downward Spiral", but the roots of this record are in late '70s art-rock. Reznor openly acknowledges the influence of David Bowie and Pink Floyd on his own music, and on "The Fragile" these influences are stronger and more evident than ever.

The key references are Bowie's 1977 album "Low" and - an ambient work recorded when Bowie was based in Berlin and self-confessedly addicted to heroin - and the Floyd's 1979 concept album "The Wall". The latter is one of the most miserable records of all time and was aired before and after every show on Marilyn Manson's "Mechanical Animals" tour. Its influence on "The Fragile" is immediately evident on "Pilgrimage", which echoes the tumultuous climax of "The Wall" as a computer-generated marching band and baying crowd create an incendiary atmosphere redolent of a fascist rally. It is no mere coincidence that Bob Ezrin, co-producer of "The Wall", was drafted in by Reznor at the 11th hour to assemble a high-impact running order for "The Fragile": the two albums are comparable in scope and intensity.

Acclaimed by Reznor himself as the best work of his life, "The Fragile" is ambitious, inventive and emotive. After this, you may never want to hear Slipknot or Korn or Limp Bizkit again.

It begins, unexpectedly, with the funky strum of an acoustic guitar, although "Somewhat Damaged", the amusingly-titled first track, quickly reveals classic NIN traits: a hypnotic, mechanised beat and a lyric full of self-loathing. 'Too fucked up to care any more,' Reznor moans. He is a gothic rock icon, after all.

"The Day The World Went Away" follows, one of the album's key tracks, a gigantic rock roar interspersed with ominous lulls and finished with a powerful 'na-na' chorus. Truly an anthem for the year 2000. Then comes "The Frail", a two-minute instrumental evoking the eerie calm of Bowie's "Low", and "The Wretched", a cold, hard funk crunch as pervy as "Closer". Then it's the seven-minute single "We're In This Together", a song with the raw power of early NIN and all the desperate romance of Bowie's "Heroes".

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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