Review Summary: Trent Reznor creates a gorgeous, genre spanning album.
Nine Inch Nails
Nothing Records, 1999
With the industrial masterpiece The Downward Spiral
Trent Reznor had hit musical gold, and sparked a revolution in industrial music, with bands such as Skinny Puppy and Killing Joke releasing their most powerful and inspired albums, all based off of The Downward Spiral
's musical template. Trent even started working as a producer with other artists, most notably Marilyn Manson, who would eventually grow to despise Reznor. Unfortunately, fame came with a price, and Trent found himself in his own metaphorical downward spiral, lost in a haze of drug addiction and health issues. Fortunately, he managed to pull himself out of this stupor, and decided to produce and create an album as a follow up to his prior works. He decided to name this album after the emotional state that he was in. In case you did not guess, he named it The Fragile
Containing a total of twenty three tracks, this album is undeniably a hefty listen. While many double albums eventually become a chore to listen through end-to-end, Trent Reznor's skillful production and execution of these twenty three songs make it quite possible to listen to this album all the way through without losing a spark of interest. The sheer variety of music found here is quite mind boggling. Sure, there are the standard industrial rockers ('Where Is Everybody' etc.), but these are interspersed with quieter, much more atmospheric sections as well as gorgeous piano sections and bizarre instrumentals ('La Mer'). Fans of any type of music will be able to listen to this album and find something to be enjoyed, whether it be loud or quiet, heavy or soft.
When describing The Fragile
in comparison to other Nine Inch Nails works, I would place it directly between The Downward Spiral
and Pretty Hate Machine
. It still contains the anger and aggression of the former, but also manages to adapt some of the catchiness and near-techno beats of the latter. This mixed approach helps add to the musical variety, and provides more varied listening experiences. This album also allows Trent to practice composing more intricate, ambient sections as well as his wall-of-sound standard. Using dense guitar tones and eerie keyboard flourishes, many of the soundscapes created here manage to create a creepy, disturbing atmosphere. A prime example of this is 'Ripe (With Decay)', which uses very creepy guitar lines to establish dark imagery.
The one song that I could say describes this massive album perfectly is the seven minute epic 'We're In This Together'. Using dark lyrical imagery and a powerful, encompassing guitar-synth line, this truly acts as the main standout of the album. Trent's vocals here are rough and angst filled, sometimes going softer in the verses. Slowly the song manages to build in intensity, eventually awashing the listener in a wall of relentless sound. This sound slowly fades out into delicate, creepy piano chords that are nearly inaudible in an ambient haze. This is truly a magnificent song, and definitely the strongest song of the album.
My one qualm with The Fragile
is with the lyrics. While they often manage to get their point across as being dark and depressing, they manage to come across as slightly over dramatic, and often become quite cliched. This is supposedly meant to be the narrative sequel to the storyline of The Downward Spiral
, but this theory is very loosely supported by the lyrics, which all seem to move aimlessly in their sea of depressing imagery.
An excellent double album, The Fragile
shows Trent evolving as both a composer and musician, managing to blend together the various styles utilized on his prior albums. Despite some rather weak lyrics, this album is still a near-masterpiece, and one that will rarely (if ever) leave my CD player.