They said it couldn't be done: a new Nine Inch Nails album.
Enter Trent Reznor, once deemed by Spin the most vital artist in music today, arguably a musical genius. It has been five long years since the ground-shattering "The Downward Spiral," which brought industrial music to the forefront. In the interim, Reznor contributed to the "Lost Highway" soundtrack and remixed David Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans." He also fought a deep depression. Here it is, "The Fragile," without a doubt the most highly anticipated album of the decade. It was in such great demand that record stores across the country had their shelves cleared of the 23-track double disc. "The Fragile" is also referred to as Halo Fourteen. Halo is simply a term to number the official NIN releases, because there are so many bootlegs.
The public got a taste of "The Fragile" from two standout songs, "The Day the Whole World Went Away" and "We're in This Together," which is the first official radio single and video. The band also played the title track at this year's MTV Video Music Awards.
The truth is, "The Fragile" is quite different from "The Downward Spiral" and "Pretty Hate Machine." Yes, there still is that very NIN quality to it, but this album is much more melodic and acoustic. Fear not, pianos are still tortured and guitars are ground till each string snaps, but "The Fragile" brings us a much more diversified sound. This is evident right from Track 1 of the first CD (or "Left"), "Somewhat Damaged," starting out with an acoustic guitar and later adding mystical machine magic.
"The Day the World Went Away" is where the new side of NIN shows. It starts out raring to go, and just when you think it's about to take you over the top, it backs away suspensefully. Reznor's weary voice sings the lines "the plastic face forced to portray/all the insides left cold and gray," which seems heavily autobiographical, like most of the "Fragile" songs.
Another theme is the soul-torturing process of losing someone. The awkward love song, if you can even call it that, "We're in This Together" is a pulsating number and a perfect choice for its radio single. It's what NIN is known for: being loud and loving it.
The title track is without a doubt one of the CD's best. It hints that behind the symbolism of "The Fragile" might be a person, promising, "I won't let you fall apart." Reznor is trying to save someone from falling into the same hole he's in, which is portrayed in the non-instrumental track, "Even Deeper."
There's always that argument whether it's the lyrics or the music that truly make the song. Nine Inch Nails is one of the few bands to hit an equilibrium, balancing both, although it might tip in favor of the music. "Into the Void" is a perfect example of this: Lyrics are simple, yet meaningful. A song that is sure to turn heads is "Star------." Once again, Reznor challenges the conventions of standard religion and morality.
As many angry and violent turns as "The Fragile" takes, it also has its moments of serenity. "La Mer" starts out with beautiful piano playing but soon climaxes into overlapping melodies.
There's something about Reznor's voice that makes you think maybe you don't have it so bad. Pain is felt through his lyrics, but his voice in lines like "I descend from grace/in arms of undertow" from "The Great Below" transfer his emotion.
"The Fragile" will undoubtedly go down as the best album of '99 by anyone who matters. It's a highly volatile, moody trip that sends one's mind reeling endlessly. Reznor continues to reign as a modern-rock god. All hail, Trent.
Melissa Maino is a junior at Hamburg High School.