The Fragile, a double CD, takes up where The Downward Spiral left off 4 years ago. NINE INCH NAILS does NINE INCH NAILS, again and always. But should we really complain about such a guilty pleasure?
During his 4 year absence, Trent Reznor has collaborated with David Bowie, David Lynch and the instant Freak flash-in-the pan Manson, while armies of little clones (FILTER,STABBING WESTARD,MARYLIN MANSON,..) trying to fill the space left vacant with unegal success were spreading out. Respected by his fellow musicians, Reznor is undoubtedly one of the most influencial artists of the decade and can indeed believe in his music. And that's exactly what he does on The Fragile, an overly long album without surprises that is, however, welcomed like the return of the prodigal son.
Nothing changed. The sound remains the same, while less clean, less polished and more abrasive than its predecessors, the rage remains, the pain is omnipresent and the atmosphere is dark and tortured. However, contrary to the poseurs and over-hyped MTV wanna-be rebel poster-boys such as KID ROCK (alias RAGE WITHOUT THE MACHINE), Reznor's approach is that of a real artist. His music and lyrics witness an introspection where he strips himself, while others are too busy singing hymns to their clothes, cars and to sillicone breasts. The Fragile is inferior to its predecessor, less revolutionary and too long (one remembers that The Downward Spiral exploded in the middle of the grunge invasion). The second disc could be considered unnecessary and as a collection of B-sides (except for a few cases). 12 good tracks would have been enough instead of being inundated by many short instrumentals. However, this profusion of instrumentals reflects different states of his mind and matches his approach of revealing himself to his listeners. Even if most of them are not captivating, they are usually not bad. Finally, it is clear that his absence had left an empty space: the NINE INCH NAILS sound. Only NINE INCH NAILS can play NINE INCH NAILS, regardless of the Diet versions that can be found.
The Fragile starts where The Downward Spiral left us as the first song, "Somewhat Damaged", sounds like an extract from The Downward Spiral. "The Day The World Went Away" testifies to noisy-pop influences and bands such as THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN & MY BLOODY VALENTINE, (could noisy-pop be making a come back?-check DEATH IN VEGAS). The surprise comes from "We're In This Together", probably their catchiest song to date, that seems to flick off FILTER and STABBING WESTARD about producing some melodic industrial music. Next, "The Fragile" is a distress call where he yells he won't let you fall apart, while "Into The Void", the last track of the first CD, has a dark beauty reminiscent of "Hurt". The second CD features some good songs with weird arrangments such as "Where is Everybody?", "The Mark Has Been Made", "Please" and "The Big Come Down". "Starfuckers" is a classic NINE INCH NAILS in the vein of "Wish" and "March of Pigs" where Reznor takes on all the poseurs, parasites and wannabe-stars, a direct allusion to the microcosm of Hollywood and Los Angeles that he seems to have fled in the last few years.
The Fragile might be imperfect, but it is tormented and interesting enough to please with the return NINE INCH NAILS.