As Trent Reznor, the creative force behind
Nine Inch Nails, obsessively tinkers in his New Orleans studio, he's beginning
to lose perspective.
"I'm in the home stretch and there's
this question nagging me: Is this fantastic or so self-absorbed that I
missed the mark?" Reznor says of his upcoming album, The Fragile.
Rock's electronic Frankenstein had
the same doubts about his last studio release, 1994's The Downward Spiral,
a critical and commercial triumph that cemented his reputation as one of
rock's few remaining daredevils.
Before its release, Reznor was certain
"it was the end of my career," he says. "I thought nobody's going to buy
A remix album followed, along with
tracks on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack (produced by Reznor) and
The Perfect Drug single.
Reznor also put energy into building
his Nothing label and tech-saturated studio, further delaying NIN's album,
to the dismay of fans and retailers hoping for a fresh rock catalyst. In
1997, Alternative Press declared it one of 1998's most anticipated releases.
It never surfaced, so the magazine recast it as one of 1999's hottest prospects.
It's expected by June.
"For the past two years, I've been
trying to reinvent myself. I didn't have a plan, unlike the rigid set of
rules I followed in The Downward Spiral. I let my subconscious go in an
unpredictable direction. It's been a good learning experience."
And a lengthy one. He's finished 20
tracks and has another 25 demos on the assembly line. He's contemplating
a double album: one instrumental disc and one with vocals.
"By the time it's sorted out, I hope
it makes a pretty monumental statement in terms of where I'm at."
It seems the pop auteur has vacated
the scorched earth of despair, guilt and rage. He's curtailing self-destructive
tendencies and favoring observation over painful introspection.
"It's not as knee-jerk muscle-flexingly
angry," he says. "It's got a newfound maturity. In hindsight, some of my
music seems a bit juvenile. But if you look back and say, 'I couldn't beat
that,' there's no point doing another record."
While he remains perversely experimental,
abandoning song structure and cyber-shredding conventional instruments
into unrecognizable sounds, Reznor claims The Fragile may be his most ear-friendly
"I'm less concerned with going out
of my way to make it unlistenable," he says. " I'm approaching music as
art, but part of my head is tuned into the hooks of AM radio."
Still, Reznor's capsule review is hardly
conventional: "Imagine Tom Waits on a bayou filtered through a funk blender
and slowed down."
Corrupted by technology, organic sounds
are rendered alien. Distorted ukuleles and detuned cellos enhance a feeling
of decay that permeates every track. Bandmates and guests add riffs they'll
be hard-pressed to locate in the dense, manipulated soundscape.
"I play guitar on almost every track,
and there are live drums," he says. "But never fear it doesn't sound like
a band playing. It's very bent and at times claustrophobic. We went to
incredible lengths pushing technology to do things it shouldn't do."
Prone to depression, Reznor felt revivified
by the therapeutic process of creating music, especially after suffering
a celebrity hangover.
"I got sick of the press wars, the
backstabbing, the chart positions, the ugly side you never thought about
when you started practicing guitar. I forgot the feeling of beauty I can
achieve by writing. You lose that in the nonsense of being a rock star."
By Edna Gundersen,
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