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Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile

Worth the wait

By Dan Katz

Staff Writer

On Monday, September 20, as midnight was nearing, I headed to Tower Records for the impending release of Nine Inch Nails’ new double CD, The Fragile. I soon discovered I’d been beaten to the punch by a line of about two hundred loitering fans, dressed mostly in black, obstructing the sidewalk of Newbury Street. There has clearly been quite a bit of hype behind this album.

But is The Fragile as revolutionary as its publicity squad would like you to believe? It certainly radiates Trent Reznor’s usual sense of self-loathing and dramaticism: the CD, cover, and insert bear blurred, blended colors rather than any sort of picture, the CDs are not labeled with disc numbers but with the positions “left” and “right,” and the tracks bear grand pessimistic titles like “Into The Void,” “The Wretched,” and “The Day The World Went Away.” This is the kind of album that cynics love to tear apart. Those cynics, however, would be missing something, because The Fragile actually manages to surpass its own buzz and is probably one of the best releases so far this year.

The music on the album spans almost 104 minutes, and in some ways, resembles a greatest hits album, incorporating the varying styles of Reznor’s earlier work with new ideas and instrumentations. “The Day The World Went Away” utilizes the brooding wounded vocals and heavy contrast found in songs like “Hurt,” but with even sharper changes in volume. The Marilyn Manson-like power chords and skittery drums on “Starfuckers, Inc.” evoke memories of the tremendous Broken EP. And “We’re In This Together” is a nice improvement over the naggingly similar “Terrible Lie.” Reznor also borrows a few tricks from peer musicians. Tori Amos’s influence is inherent in short transition track, “The Frail,” and shades of “God Lives Underwater” show up in “Just Like You Imagined.”

While the lyrics of the album have a certain predictability to them (when I heard “Please” open with the line “This is how ... ” I managed to spit out “it begins” before Reznor) the music is clever and interesting, melding together pieces of sound which don’t seem to fit together rhythmically. In the opening track, “Somewhat Damaged,” an intermittently aggressive drum line is juxtaposed with a menacingly repetitive bar-and-a-half guitar riff, and “The Way Out Is Through” erupts into a monstrous series of distorted guitar bends.

In addition, what Reznor lacks in lyrical creativity, he makes up for with vocal range, racing between whispers, high notes, and all-out screaming. He also occasionally melds his music and lyrics with skilled irony, such as in the title track, in which he utters the repeated phrase, “I won’t let you fall apart” in a way that assures anything but safety. Actually, there are a lot of songs in which one line is repeated indefinitely, but it’s usually in a catchy fashion and the music evolves and changes behind it.

It’s rare in the music industry that a band (or artist, in this case) releases an album after a long period of absence and it turns out as good as The Fragile. It’s clear that Reznor put a lot of talent, perfectionism, and yes, even emotion into the release. The album’s a little pricey (around $20 at most stores) but it’s worth it for an hour and a half of terrific music, of which not a second is filler. Industrial fans, rejoice; The Fragile is all it’s cracked up to be.