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October 1999

The Fragile

The Fragile is even bleaker than 1994's The Downward Spiral as it lurches along with a perpetual scowl. A frenzied collection of buzz-saw pop, Trent Reznor's grim opus yo-yos through two CDs with scattershot intensity. Hushed one minute and explosive the next, spite and anger intermix with heartbreaking resignation, sometimes in the course of one song. Still, Reznor's dour and uncompromising approach is accessible and undeniably entertaining, even when he eschews vocals altogether. Unchanged are the obsessive lengths that he goes to for the sake of a dynamic thrill ride. The quiet tones that open the instrumental "Just Like You Imagined" suddenly erupt into a barrage of off-time rhythms and noodling keyboard riffs, all rising to a torrid conclusion. The sheer sonic invention on display here is astounding. Reznor's production approaches Brian Eno's in terms of dynamism, though it arises from a profoundly different sensibility. "Star******* (sic) Inc" uses chopped-up vocals for the verses and a shouting mob for its propulsive, Ministryesque chorus to mercilessly slam some of NIN's imitators (most pointedly, Marilyn Manson). And while there's nothing here as dance-floor-ready as Downward Spiral's "Closer," "Where Is Everybody" comes close, thanks to its slow, sweaty gyrations and Adrian Belew's slippery guitar figures. The Fragile's songs are ultimately simple explorations of deep disillusionment. However, once Reznor finishes twisting them out of shape, they're towering soundscapes of rage that are at once terrifying and beautiful.

--Matthew Cooke

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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.