Review Summary: Trent Reznor's masterpiece, wrongfully overshadowed by The Downward Spiral.
This is, in my opinion, my favorite record that Trent Reznor has written, and the greatest alternative industrial album ever made. It contains songs with a wide range of emotions, from absolute anger, to bitter sadness, to bliss and peace. But mostly sadness. The range of emotion is much wider than any of Reznor's albums, and that's what makes it his most personal. Written during a dark time in his life, Reznor painstakingly crafted a masterpiece over the course of two years in his New Orleans studio, molded from his raw emotions and deepest feelings. It hits a soft spot. That's what I love about The Fragile. In whatever mood you're in, there's a song from The Fragile that matches that mood.
More radio-friendly than most of his other albums, The Fragile effectively soothes us with melody and orchestral landscape, while at the same time makes us more tense and perhaps more self-conscious. The tense, volatile vibe oozing from the record is frightening at times, and at other times, beautiful. Lyrically, Reznor is at his most poetically mature. From the melancholy guitar symphonic eulogy of "The Day The World Went Away" to the hard-core, speaker-blowing, metal "No, You Don't," Reznor is also at his most diverse and versatile, as a musician.
The instrumentals in the album are some of the greatest that Reznor has ever written. Reznor is known for his use of instrumentals. "Just Like You Imagined" is considered to be the greatest Nine Inch Nails song, which includes a catchy bassline, awesome synth backgrounds and distorted guitar solos. "Pilgrimage" sounds like a march, which evidently leads to nowhere. Marching drums, choir, and loud guitar. "The Mark Has Been Made" is a volatile experience to listen to, tensing up to a loud breakdown in the end, and what sounds like thousands of guitars growling at each other.
The Fragile also includes some of Reznor most beautiful, melodic, and soothing songs. The middle of the album acts as a bridge between the two loudest points. "No, You Don't" is like the climax of the first half, soon followed by a drastic mood change into the quiet "La Mer." The quiet parts are, at the same time, the most dark, saddening songs, too. "La Mer," a jazzy, almost therapeutic song, sung in french, happens to be the song that Reznor wrote as he was contemplating suicide. "The Great Below" is a song about drowning. The beautiful orchestra of "The Great Below" clouds the bitterness of the lyrics, as they slowly become more and more frighteningly suicidal. The left side ends in silence.
The Right side starts from the silence of "The Great Below," forming what sounds like recovery from death in "The Way Out is Through." The synth-driven intro is, in my opinion, the best intro Reznor has written, with it's gradual build-up and subtle lyrics. "Into The Void" begins from the intro's breakdown, beginning with xylophone and synth bass. Vocally, Reznor shines in "Into the Void," with what sounds like hundreds of his same voice. I can only imagine the time it took for him to put this together.
Comedy relief is the only way I could describe the infamous song, "Starfuckers, Inc." An angry rage shout-out towards modern pop culture, the song has ridiculous but memorable lyrics, and over-the-top chorus. It gets the blood flowing, and it's an unforgettable song.
The entire album is a silent masterpiece, as it is at times quieter than The Downward Spiral, and at some times a lot louder. The noise is more controlled in The Fragile, and it's clearer, and more melodic. The concept of the album is the frailty of life, and the tension of the human condition. With this said, it's easier to relate to than The Downward Spiral, which I think is crucial to an album, especially one as long as this one. That is why I think The Fragile is superior, but not much, to The Downward Spiral. I love it for it's tense beauty, its lyrical substance and its message of life: that we are all fragile, and should know our place.