Originally published in Philedelphia City Paper on October 1, 1999
The relentless, peeled-raw throb. The coiled-tight, manic-depressive burting at the seams. The cooing, mewing and screeching over ambeint soundscapes. This could be none other than Trent Reznor. Mostly hold up in his studio since The Downward Spiral, it's rumored Reznor became victim to his too-few forays into the outside world. And if that ain't what happened, it certainly sounds it. Rather than contemplate animal sexuality and self-hate, he tackles subtler themes: minds in slow decay, envy, utter sadness, suicide. "Starfuckres, Inc." steals from Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," spitting vinegar in detractors' eyes. Reznor even takes time for sarcastic optimism on tracks like "I'm looking forward to joining you, finally." Fragile's Reznor is a sponge, soaking up misery like a coroner does blood and bile. The Fragile does take time to seep in, with woozy acoustic guitars and still, Satie-like piano motifs countering the muted post-industrial roar. Though Reznor's screams and gulps are clear here, it's in the quieter moments -- the jazzy lab ambience of "Even Deeper," the buzzing horn and bass on the Debussy beauty "La Mer" -- that he's most effective. You can lay some of the blame on Alan Moulder and The Wall/Berlin producer Bob Ezrin for knowing how to orchestrate morbid, self-involved storytelling, but The Fragile is yet another chapter in Reznor's own teary pulp fiction.
Transcribed by Keith Duemling