The Fragile

By Brent DiCrescenzo for Pitchfork Media on October 1, 1999

The Fragile
Rating: 2.0
1:00am: I've gathered my supplies and I'm going to sit this one straight through. Trent's going to keep me up for at least another two hours with his latest bloated indulgence, The Fragile. So I've got a pot of coffee. It's black. Pitch black. As black as your fucking soul! And I'm typing on this machine. This machine is grinding me down. I feel like a fucking machine! Grrrarrrgh!

9:00pm: My first experience with The Fragile, as is the case with most new CDs, comes in my Honda. I'm sitting at a red light on Webster and Damen, waiting for a left turn. Trent Reznor is screaming, "Tear a hole exquisite red/ Fuck the rest and stab it dead" over a troop of industrial guitars and digital whining. I yawn with such stretching intensity that I miss my turn light. The entire situation strikes me as particularly humorous. Here I am-- a 24- year- old white guy with floppy bangs, wearing a tie, driving a Honda-- and all the bile Trent Reznor can must muster up from his supposedly scorched soul makes me yawn.

Sometime over the last decade, music that is intrinsically meant to be menacing (i.e. Nine Inch Nails) has become a banal syndicated- action hour soundtrack. It's easy to imagine the overproduced grind of "The Wretched" blaring through a TV screen as Nightman kicks a henchman off a roof. This stuff could be the score to "The Crow 4: In Space." And this time around, Trent has unanimously failed to shock anyone above the age of 15 and under the age of 54. I mean, have you listened to old Judas Priest lately? Now, this is not to say music must be confrontational, although the best of it typically is. However, in a pop society that has become numb to industrial sounds through ESPN2 and Surge commercials, it's no longer interesting or tolerable to base one's entire output on volume and amplified cliches.

And so "Somewhat Damaged" continues to pound out its same four notes. Systematically, layers of crust, fuzz, dirt, and whatever else Reznor can scrape off the walls in his studio are piled on top, pounding out the same four- note scale. 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4. Ooh, wow, did he just say "fuck?" Trent, Holden Caulfield rubbed that out 50 years ago.

8:00pm: "Hello?" asks Ryan.

"Okay, I'm going to read you something," I say.

"Oh, hey dude. Um, sure."

"'She shines/ In a world full of ugliness/ She matters/ When everything is meaningless.'"

"Oh, man."

"'Sometimes I have everything/ Yet I wish I felt something.'"

"Are these lyrics?"

"'Underneath it all/ We feel so small/ The Heavens fall / But still we crawl.'"

"Haha. What is this?"

"Pleading and/ Needing and/ Bleeding and/ Breeding and/ Feeding/ Exceeding."


"Now everything is clear/ I can erase the fear/ I can disapper."

"Man, what is this. Is this some emo album?"

"I am every fucking thing and just a little more/ And when I suck you off not a drop will go to waste/ It's really not so bad, you know, once you get past the taste, yeah/ Starfuckers."

"No. Oh, no. No. It's Nine Inch Nails!"

1:49am: "Even Deeper," a track mixed by Dr. Dre, spits aluminum riffs into my headphones. The entire concept of pairing of Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nails, a match maid in Kornboy heaven (or most likely the Interscope commissary) is laughable. Shuffling beats squirt under "Blade Runner" booms and fathoms of string samples. The end product sounds entirely similar to the rest of this 104- minute albatross. The token celebrity stroking of this studio marriage is fittingly overwrought, unnecessary and done with questionable intent. From the sound of it, Trent cares little to broaden his palate from this rap/ rock union. Without the liner notes, one would never pick this song as "the Dr. Dre track."

Ironically, a man hailed by his legion of testoster- drones as "genius" often leans heavily on the work of other, better sound wizards. Adrian Belew, Steve Albini, and Alan Moulder conspicuously leave their fingerprints all over The Fragile. In other words, whenever something sounds cool, it's most likely coming from one of these other men, who have worked on such mind- blowing classics like Talking Heads' Remain in Light, Slint's Spiderland, and My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, respectively. The constipated drone of "The Day the World Went Away" unabashedly attempts to mimic My Bloody Valentine's sculpted cacophony. Unfortunately, from the hands of an unsubtle goth, the result is strained fuzz.

2:00am: Trent Reznor is the worst, most predictable, most uninspired lyricist working today. The freshman gloom spouted throughout The Fragile are only making it easier for the Goth Lyric Generators on the web. Copy the word decay from this sentence. Paste it into a Word document. Highlight it. Press Shift-F7. Every synonym that appears on your thesaurus screen pops up in Trent Renzor's pitiful poetry. Coming from the mouth of a steadily plumping, thirty- something recluse (who, incedentally, is bearing striking resemblance to Phil Hartman's SNL Frankenstein character these days), it's just sad. Does he collect candelabras and "Spawn" comics? I guarantee it. In the five years it's taken to complete The Fragile, Trent seemingly watched Dark City at least 40 times. It's insulting to hear Trent and his PR firm talk up the "radical departure" and pop flourishes on this record because the record sounds 100% similar to Broken and The Downward Spiral. Or more accurately, it's like combining Broken and The Downward Spiral. Clever.

2:45am: The gentle piano plunking of "La Mer" lulls me to sleep momentarily on its second time around. It's not the gentle ambience of it, though, since this loud sludge could knock out a speed addict. The Fragile is the most taxing record I've ever had to work through in my five years of reviewing CDs. I mean, even the Beatles failed to make a double album without throwing in some filler. Why does Trent Reznor thinking he can succeed? I'm actually glad Billy Corgan used up The Infinite Sadness. Reznor would jump all over a title like that.

It's difficult to decide where to even begin trimming The Fragile. It's so stunningly monotonous. Any bit of it could be lost without notice. I mean, when the instrumental interludes carry an album, it's a blaring neon sign flashing "stay away!" I pity the kids of the style- over- substance generation-- and yes, it will only be kids-- who enjoy this album. Kids, high school isn't as bad as it seems. You'll grow out of this phase. Save yourself, or your parents, the 25 bucks. The Fragile's length begins to make sense in this context. 104 minutes is the perfect duration for those post- dinner, pre- "X-Files" periods of "nobody understands me" bedroom isolation sit-ins.

3:00am: Before getting back into The Fragile, I peruse the liner notes and artwork. David Carson of "Raygun" fame laid out the artwork for The Fragile. And what a fitting look! Carson, whose design work broke new ground for typography, lost touch years ago. The originator of the 1990s' trademark "crusty look" is analogous to the fat- bottomed disco fonts of the '70s or the thin sans- serif of deco. But guess what? It's almost 2000 and the world needs a new look and a new sound. Carson and Reznor will forever be remembered as 1990s pop figures that helped create an identifiable logo for the decade, and little else. Trent, you are Flock of Seagulls. The Fragile embodies everything wrong with this decade-- hype, letdown, technological fetishism, empty rage, financial bloat, bombast, self- loathing, and indifference to anything truly important and interesting flowing underneath the surface. Trent Reznor is Chris Gaines.

3:20am: "Starfuckers, Inc." That's pretty much all I have to say in criticism of this album. That sums it right up. Do you or don't you want to own an album with a song called "Starfuckers, Inc?" Besides the snickering potty- mouthed title, it's one of the most blatantly hypocritical attacks ever put to tape. It's a widely- publicized attack on Marilyn Manson. There are several lyrical references to the gangly idiot such as "I'm one of the beautiful ones" and "My god pouts on the cover of a magazine." And how are these jabs delivered? Why, in a song which sounds exactly like Marilyn Manson (and also borrows from Carly Simon), by a man who pouts on the cover of Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Spin, etc.

In essence, Reznor is Marilyn Manson without the makeup (which is a bit like Kiss without the makeup). The Fragile is simply Music for 'The Elder for the digital age. I take comfort knowing that the passing of another decade will make this record seem as amusingly insincere as 10CC.

And at this point, I'm angry, hungry, and frustrated. In fact, I feel like kinda like Trent Reznor. Is this the grand design? After over two hours of listening to his incessant whining and grating, I've become the very model of his audience.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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