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John Rolling Review by
John Roling
Nothing Records

The latest release from NINE INCH NAILS is a two CD set that is quite an evolution for Trent Reznor. It's the kind of evolution that will make him even more of a god in the industrial community, while completely alienating the casual fan. There is no "Head Like a Hole" or "Closer" on this record. If you came looking for verse, chorus, verse crafted songs, go elsewhere. There truly are no real radio singles and it takes quite a feat to do that on a double CD set.

First of all, out of the 23 songs on the album, six are pure instrumentals. Out of the remaining tracks, another 50 percent probably have one minute intros, interludes or outros. This will not placate the appetites of fakes goths, real jocks, or joe average radio listeners. This is definitely not a record for the impatient, and they will truly be disappointed. To those that truly appreciate industrial however, THE FRAGILE is a holy grail of sorts. It's an album that really captures the eerie, dark places of Reznor's conscienceness.

Reznor really creates moods with this album. The instrumentals are interspersed at points to create 'moodscapes' if you will, sort of a tapestry to place the more conventional songs upon. It works brilliantly, and keeps you connected to the entire album. It makes you want to keep listening to see where he'll take you next. Even if you are just listening to it as background music, it flows along smoothly like one long song.

As for the instrumentals on the album, they are mainly slow trippy musical pieces save for two. "Just Like You Imagined" is probably my favorite song on the whole album. It comes directly after the title track, and is one of the most powerful things I've heard on my CD player in a long time. Trent's use of a variety of electronica sounds intermixed with piano really make that song a winner. Another track, "Pilgrimage" brings out a feeling of pure evil. It conjures up images of death marches and genocide, and it will make your skin crawl and a shiver run down your neck.

There's another song that's not truly an instrumental (There's a female voice very low in the mix) but it deserves a special mention as well. The song is "La Mer" which translates from French to "The Sea." It starts out with a piano part that repeats continuously throughout the song. Out of nowhere a funky jazz drum and bass guitar duo join into the mix. The piano and jazz sounds initially clash in your ears and don't mix at all, but the more they go on, it seems like they were made to go together with the piano. Just when that seems comfortable, a low electronic buzzing noise joins the mix and gets louder and louder. It gets to a point where you can barely hear the piano or the bass under the din of the buzz. It's like there's culture (jazz) and class (piano) underneath the noise. It's an interesting musical metaphor, and draws you into the next song where Trent talks about being swallowed into the depths of "the great below."

There are a couple of other stellar tracks worth mentioning including "No You Don't", "Into The Void" and "We're In This Together." These are more conventional NIN songs, although "Into The Void" has a very wierd intro of tapping glasses, violin and synth. It's once again something that pulls you in and sets the mood or the remainder of the song.

As much as there is good with this album, it's not without some faults. First, Trent really doesn't stray from his typical lyrical contact. It all seems to be about his feelings on relationships and the hurt he's endured. I guess once you have a good formula, you shouldn't deviate too much. Musically, the one place in the set where Trent seems to stray is the song "Starfuckers Inc." This song would fit much better on any MARILYN MANSON record, and you can tell that Trent really brought back something from his work with Manson. Or perhaps maybe he created Manson's whole sound? I'm not sure we'll ever know... All I do know is that the Carly Simon "You're So Vain" reference in the song is hilarious.

The only other fault I've found with the album is that I believe that it will be very hard for Trent's touring band to pull of live. This could be evidenced in the absolutely horrible live performance of "The Fragile" at the MTV Video Awards. It was so bad it almost deterred me from purchasing the album. I'm glad I came to my senses and took the chance because this is one of the best albums I've purchased in a long time.

Very often two CD mega sets from bands are really one disc worth of good songs and one disc worth of filler. This isn't the case with the latest from Trent Reznor aka NINE INCH NAILS. If you like Industrial, buy this album now, if you are only a casual listener, avoid it like the plague. I give it 4 Perplex Skulls.

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This review copyright 1998 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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