The Fragile : Halo 14 (Nothing/ Interscope)

By Reef Valmont for pandemonium on September 1, 1999

Everything is different now. Everything has irreversibly changed in countless miniscule ways. Every time Trent Reznor releases a record, new impossible colors appear in the palette of rock music. The importance of a new Nine Inch Nails album can be overwrought, even overlooked by the ignorant and jealous, but it cannot be overstated. After five years of most rock music sitting in it's own piss begging for some last moments of attention and pity, a new Nine Inch Nails album is practically the second coming of Christ. No-one cares about music like Reznor cares. No-one cares about a musician like Reznor's fans care about him. This is a serious business, for sure, but more importantly, it's a glorious, magnificent, life-affirming, soul-scorching, wings-giving head-cleaning statement of art and ambition. Pull up a prayer cushion and get on your knees, your patience and faith now has reason to breathe and live, it's called The Fragile and you need it more than you could ever know.

Half A Decade

Five fucking years, five long, long fucking years. I don't want to hear another Limp Bizkit or Sugar Ray or Days Of The New or Orgy pretending that they're a band for the rest of time. I don't want to hear Marilyn Manson's self-serving messiah masturbation manifesto anymore. I don't want to see Michael Stipe's deliberately weirdo pretend-reluctant rock star pantomime on any stage or TV screen. I don't want to pay 25 bucks to catch a husked and drained once-upon-a-rock-band going through the motions at The Fenix or The Firehouse. I don't want to get another album with one great song and nine copyist pieces of didn't-even-try lackluster bollocks. I don't want some jackass who shakes his head on stage and does a coupla lines off of an ugly woman's stomach before the show proclaiming himself an icon in Raygun. Fuck you, Korn. Fuck you, Creed. Fuck off all of you posing, inefficient, visionless pieces of shit hanging inside Rolling Stone in your shiny red shirts and street-street combat boots. Fuck you, Oasis. Fuck off all you heart-string drawing folky acoustic balladeers of the simplest, easiest, bluelined human emotions. Fuck you if you take it easy and flow like water through the simplest channel. Fuck you if you really don't give a shit. Fuck you if you pander.

Package Me

The Fragile' is over 100 minutes and 20 songs long and comes on 2 tapes, 2 CD's or 3 pieces of vinyl. Each format has a different number of 'side/movement' beginnings and endings, and thus each format has a different sequention of music. The vinyl, having the most sides, includes 2 extra tracks, completists, and is probably the most effective sequention of the bunch, perfectionists. Are you tasting the attention to the tiniest detail? The beautiful cover art features the world-famous boxed NIN logo cut right in half horizontally. Draw your own statement of intent from that. There's a lyric booklet, also beautifully illustrated, telling the story of Reznor's 5 year exile in psychotherapy, desperation, panic, betrayal, loss, mourning and eventually calm. He's no longer pretending to reach for the gun, no more Downward Spiral with only blackness waiting, there's actually squares of light in the dirt.

Team NIN

As always, Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. As always, Reznor lists the members of the live NIN team on the sleeve for the upcoming word tour that kicks off in Europe in December. As always, there are aides and accomplices in the NIN recording process. The Fragile was engineered and co-produced by the mighty Alan Moulder, the man who worked his magic in the past with My Bloody Valentine, Curve and many other envelope-pushing bands. The Fragile was sequenced by Bob Ezrin, producer of Pink Floyd's The Wall. As you read this, The Fragile is the #1 selling record in America, and, believe it or not, the first time NIN have climbed to the top of the commercial pile.

The Fragile

The most important album of the year pushes itself into the national anger capillary with 'Somewhat Damaged,' a thudding and pounding piece of ominous tension seething with threat and impending violence. Loud, louder, loudest. "This machine is obsolete" screams Reznor, and the new era of NIN has begun. 'The Day The World Went Away' gently peels back the skin of fucked-up-ness kinda like 'Hurt' did on The Downward Spiral, and then it's into the first of the instrumentals on the album, this one called 'The Frail.' Some bands use instrumentals as fillers, experiments, pointless segues. Nine Inch Nails use them as mood setters, jumping points between emotive tableaus on the record, transitions with purpose and destiny. Note the detail, the way every nanosecond on this album is architectured to perfection, no-one even comes close to NIN in that department. Reznor's attention to detail, density and substance is awe-inspiring.

More hate. 'The Wretched' weaves piano, guitar and electronic mojo into a huge, punching FUCK YOU song with the bitter chorus 'It didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, did it, did it' repeated over and over as the guitars launch missiles into a burning red sky. Big, bad and brutal, I know someone I'd love to play this one to at full blast with their ears nail-gunned to their skull. Sometimes the best revenge is watching your enemy fuck themselves up through their own misguided actions, and 'The Wretched' knows this.

Behold title track The Fragile, one of the most desolately beautiful works Reznor has ever written. Where 'Head Like A Hole' found Reznor wanting to die before succumbing to his lover's dominance, and 1994's 'Reptile' had him comparing his amor to a cum-sucking honey-trailing whore, The Fragile is a genuine attempt at a love song, Reznor quietly singing "I won't let you fall apart" to his shining woman who "matters where everything is meaningless." Of course, this is Nine Inch Nails, so by the end of the song the world has intruded and ugliness permeates the anguished beauty of the track's beginnings.

'Into The Void' smacks of The Downward Spiral with it's string and beats build-up, but thirty seconds in and Reznor's dressed up like Prince, big fat 'Feel You Up' synth chords squelching out around him. Looped metal guitar swirls in, the vocal tracks start overlapping, the volume rises, and just when you expect that cavalcade of NIN noise, it's more synths and beeps and 'Horny Toad' fuck-rhythms. Surprises are around every corner on The Fragile, and there's a lot of corners.

'Starfuckers, Inc.' is a massively calculated slam of Reznor's one-time prot�g� and friend, Marilyn Manson. Lyrics like 'My God pouts on the cover of a magazine/my God's a shallow little bitch trying to make the scene''leave little room for doubt. Not only does Reznor nail a man he feels betrayed him, he also creates one of the best and hardest rock tracks of the year leaving his pretenders in the dust. Just to elevate 'Starfuckers' to that perfect NIN level of innovative structuring, Reznor climaxes the song by softly interjecting the coup-de-grace from Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain' and then giving it Certified Devil Strength with murderous howls, apocalyptic six-string ninja assaults and rugby-team backing vocals. Awesome.

Atari Teenage Riot and Prodigy are in the funeral parlor on 'Complication,' a full-speed zig-zag tech assault laid smack down on a whining pseudo-goth acoustic guitar channel. It's short, it's lyricless, it will kick your ass.

'I'm Looking Forward To Joining You, Finally' is the most bizarre song title on a NIN record this far, sounding way more Morrissey than Reznor, another indication of the man's attitude change. Musically, we're in swamp-delta-funk territory, Tom Waits throwing his shadow across the soundboard. Apparently Reznor set himself musical targets in the studio, taping names and album titles to the mixing desk as inspiration for vibe and feel. This song was definitely recorded under the 'Bone Machine' banner. "I've done all I can do/could I please come with you?" whispers Reznor as the album reaches it's final movement.

'The Big Come Down' harks back to original pre-'Pretty Hate Machine' NIN, all new-wave keyboard and hyperactive adrenalized Madonna-esque structure, albeit with shouting vocals and not sultry whispers. 'Underneath It All' as the self-referential title suggests is trademark Nails. Massive breakbeats meet slow and low vocals meet rising clanging guitars. Faster, louder, harder, more. "All I do," sings Reznor, "I can still feel you."

It all gets buried beneath the waves when 'Ripe (With Decay)' ends The Fragile via slow, long, sullen and schizophrenic instrumental drowning. The silence that follows is deafening, yet strangely peaceful. You need this record, and if you ignore it, you lose, big time.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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