Lollipop Online

May 2000

The Fragile (Nothing/Interscope)

What's all this about "saving music?" Certain other publications (like, all of 'em) have called for Nine Inch Nails to do just that, and have put great stake in The Fragile. But who said that music these days needs saving? If you think rock'n'roll is lagging or out of breath, check out almost any of Jon Sarre's reviews (go ahead, turn the page, I'll be here when you get back). Still need convincing? Listen to The Refused, Firewater, or the London Suede. Rock's doing just fine, thanks. Oh, wait... I know, let's rephrase. "NIN needs to release a new album, so all the rip-off artists who convince big name record labels to spend too much money on too little decent product can get 'inspiration' for their next weak carbon copy of an album." To break it down: "We need something new to steal." It's not rock that's suffering, it's radio that blows chunks. When Barenaked Ladies and Sevendust can be lumped together as a genre, even Don Ho could figure out something's wrong. So everyone turns to Reznor like moths to a flame. But guess what? He's a few years too late.

In the time NIN's been away, some weird shit has gone down. Hardcore drummers have gotten bored playing the same damn beat ("dukka-dukka-dukka-dukka") and realized hip hop has a totally bad-ass sound, while producers and talent scouts (read: "muck suckers") woke up to realize that hip hop is scarier than those empty-threat death metal bands. Ditto with that guy who took up so much of Trent's time in the first place trying to reanimate glam rock. Thus the "nü metal" we keep hearing so much about (by the way, check the archives for the Korn reviews we've done. Just because a band's popular doesn't mean we automatically hate them. Or does it?). Anyway, Trent's come back to the scene to find his guitar sounds co-opted, his beats carjacked, and his lyrics... well, at least he got to keep something. Only thing is, they got it all wrong.

Remember a few years back when Trent said he was going to make The Fragile more hip hop? Yeah, well I do. Shut up. That was before all this other crap got off the ground, and it appears Trent actually paid attention. Here's the quintessential hip hop beat: Big downbeat, space, backbeat, space, then a whole lotta little stuff at the end - like the whole phrase got tipped to one side and all the beats piled up at one end. It's not ripping off James Brown's "Funky Drummer" riff anymore, which is what nü metal is doing. Listen to "Even Deeper" on disc one. At first, it sounds like familiar Nails stuff, but the beats man, the beats. They wake up Trent's guitars (not powerchords, by the way - nü metal's second mistake) and add a menacing undertone to an already creepy song. Try "Where is Everybody?" on disc two. It has the "phat" bass, heavy beats, and even a sweet (term used loosely) chorus behind his shout-raps. But ultimately, just like when his Broken and Fixed albums came along to show hardcore industrial how it's really done, "No, You Don't" sits nü metal down and gives it a good scolding. Ultimately unnecessary, but sometimes it's fun to pick on the village idiot(s).

But it wouldn't be a NIN album without a few drawn-out instrumentals. The Fragile is full of 'em. Especially on disc two. But Trent goes pretty far out on "La Mer." Scoff if you will, but it sounds like Windham Hill meets King Crimson. In a dive bar. And I kinda like that. Fuck, he's always been arty, so let the man stretch his legs. I mean, he employed the classical technique of leitmotif on The Downward Spiral, that ten-note melody that ran through half the songs. You know, the one at the end of "Closer." He's got more than one now, found in "The Frail" and "The Fragile," as well as "La Mer" and "Into the Void," among others. It's up to the listener to decide if the use of leitmotif and lack of vocals means Trent is a musical innovator or if he just ran out of ideas and words while the sequencer was running (hint: considering the length of some of his interviews, I wonder when he has a chance to take a breath).

Ah yes, the lyrics. The years have been kind to Trent. Make no mistake, he's still full of despair, he's miserable, he's been betrayed... but he found out it's clinical. So he endures. That's the focus of The Fragile. He's pissed off, but he's not as close to death as on The Downward Spiral. He'll get by. When taken in conjunction with Further Down The Spiral, Trent has gone to the bottom, and he's found that if he looks up, things will still suck. But hey, check out those clouds. Endurance is key. Even if every no-talent band in the world tries to take his style, it'll always be his. And he hates you.

One more thing: Even if you disagree with everything I've said, at least listen to the production. It's perfect. Damn, he's good.

by Lex Marburger - Lollipop Online

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Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.