Review Summary: And the sea will come to kiss me, for I am going home.
"Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
Perhaps that's the best term to accurately describe The Fragile
. You have to hand it to Trent Reznor for dreaming the idea of a double album up - it's one of the highest landmarks in industrial music, sprung from the ever-creative and talented mind of Mr. Reznor, who wasn't exactly going steady at the time. As he was experiencing a fierce alcohol addiction, suffering from a bad case of social anxiety disorder, and more or less barely sleeping; it's safe to say he was having a little more than just a small crisis of faith. It had been about five years since the release of the 1994 release of The Downward Spiral
industrial album that set off everyone else) and then he penned down the instruments for a double album, and recorded it largely in his personal studio in New Orleans; an excellent place to record your biggest piece of music. So despite all of his trials, tribulations, and without an answer to poor Trent's problem - or finding out what Trent's problem even was
, for that matter - it was a worthy five years to wait.
It's still safe to say that his departure didn't go down in flames. 1994 and the years that followed it showed that Trent's work in the industrial scene proved well - people pounced on them like kids in candy stores, and began to produce more and more industrial albums; it blew the Seattle scene of grunge completely out of the water, and paved the way for so many artists to build a career. If you had a keyboard and a loud guitar, then you're set to hit a high platinum record in a matter of weeks.
So when Trent returned, you'd think he'd of been met with a warm hug and a handshake. In fact, Trent returned at exactly the wrong time: in the late 1990's. This was around the time when the alternative rock scene had begun to make its uphill trek and the once-huge phenomenon of the industrial rock scene began to get caught in a landslide. Sure, many veteran bands like Ministry
continued to sell very well, but when Trent began his new style, many critics had just dismissed it. Perhaps that what some fail to realize is that the beauty of Reznor's music is that he releases something new every time - The Fragile
shows him breaking off into a more hopeful, but no less dark direction with its beauty. Instead of throwing you off balance with its gritty atmosphere and roaring electronics, The Fragile
in itself is more of a calm after the storm: it explores pathos, piano, harmonies, all with a tinge of sadness. While it is a double album and a concept, it has no storyline and is totally different from the antsy and angst-laden lyrics in Downward Spiral.
The atmosphere created by this and the often boundless amount of instruments used, should be enough alone to captivate the listener. Trent goes all out here in his musical talent: it encapsulates all the elements of industrial rock that made Trent a god in the scene - guitar, piano, bass and drums, keyboards - and does so with a tinge of sadness and trepidation. Just because the music doesn't burst out suddenly and doesn't stick to the formula that made you a legend doesn't mean it can't be good.
Therefore Fragile opens Somewhat Damaged
, a creeping descent of dry electronics and Reznor's harsh vocals, perhaps staying truer to the original ideals of The Downward Spiral. It's doubtless that the album will be full of filler (double albums have that constant ebb), but all the better moments on The Fragile make up for it. Under Reznor's new fingers, it is full of an aching sadness, the instruments deeper and richer. Approaches like this are notable in the soft, mostly instrumental La Mer
and the orchestral soundscape of The Great Below
proves Reznor as a masterful player, whether it comes to acoustics or electronics.
Even when some songs end, it's possible to still feel its dark nature, no matter how loud or quiet. The multiple breakdowns and changes in time signatures in We're In This Together
, backed by a soft piano and echoing acoustics are two individual standouts; the second half of The Fragile
is actually quite beautiful, with gorgeous piano parts followed by an explosive guitar solo. Other similar standouts do emerge in the 4/4 riffs and haunting vocals during The Day The Whole World Went Away
, and the ridiculous cadenza of keyboards and bass popping up in the twisted instrumental Pilgrimage
The second half of the album is less of a classic and features more duds, in particular tracks such as the pointless Star***ers, Inc.
, mostly by the fact that Reznor goes overboard in his lyrics here. He uses slang in the worst way possible, with weak links in electronics that actually start to bore you in its repetition. Into the Void
is basically a longer reprise of La Mer
that serves to only interest you with its catchy synthesized bass, but no more. Underneath it All
, a simple 3-minute song, has a lot of interesting details about its composition that makes it similar to a mix between Downward Spiral songs Ruiner and The Becoming
, and Please
is more or less the highest filler song on the double album. However, Ripe (With Decay
) is an excellent closer that serves well to wrap things up, with a disturbing acoustic guitar that tightens over a background of crackling drums, dry bass, and all ends with a brilliant guitar outro.
To put it simply, The Fragile does have plenty of filler; in particular on the second disk. But there's enough good here to make any listener endure only the occasional mediocrity. When the album is at its best - and there are plenty of sequences here - it delivers some of the best experiences in Trent's career. The Fragile
is a great album with elements of different genres, all brought together more diversely than The Downward Spiral's compositions. It may not be perfect, and some might consider it just a lighter illusion of his previous releases: but illusion is the first of all pleasures.