Nine Inch Nails’ third LP, The Fragile, was released on September 21, 1999. The album peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 100 chart on its week of release and was certified double-platinum only months later in January of 2000.
In our last installment, I lamented the flaws inherent in releasing a double-LP, took a look at Trent Reznor’s late-90s apparel, and listened to the first disc of The Fragile. It’s an interesting but spotty disc so far, the expansively creative instrumental tracks succeeding and the more traditional vocal approach beginning to falter.
Without any further preamble, let’s dive in to the back half of Nine Inch Nails’ final statement of the 1990s.
The Way Out Is Through
The title of this song sums up my current feelings about this Nine Inch Nails Reevaluation project, which I totally don’t feel like doing lately. Is it that I secretly yearn for something peppy and optimistic instead of piles and piles of deep dark dread? Probably not, because I’m very excited about the new remake of Stephen King’s IT. Ah well, what does this song sound like, anyway?
Pretty cool, it turns out! A swelling and roiling mess of synths flutter around the listeners ears until the tune erupts into a pleasingly hard-edged pile of riff-y guitars that don’t overstay their welcome. Terrific atmosphere on this track. Very good.
Into The Void
Right off the top, “Into The Void” has a fascinating arrangement. Organic instruments lay down the melodic theme and then are replaced by a vintage NIN farty-bass. The vocals take more of a repetitious mantra approach than that of a traditional verse and chorus, and it works very well in this context. An excellent, heady track. Again, heavier on atmosphere than songcraft, but a great success.
Where Is Everybody
Oh dear. Musically this is just fine, but “Where Is Everybody” sees the return of Rappin’ Reznor on a level that we haven’t seen since the most embarrassing tracks on Pretty Hate Machine. I suppose it makes sense, given that this was released in the late 90s that Trip Rebler would feel like he should take part in the musical shit-pile of white rappers that defined that era, but it weakens a song that is otherwise… not super interesting or well-written.
Where is everybody? They probably heard you rapping and snuck out, Terry.
The Mark Has Been Made
The instrumental work on both of these discs is so well-produced and compelling. The best moments of this album are defined by the fact that they are absolutely not pop music, rock music, or any other discernible genre of easy classification. “The Mark Has Been Made” is a great example. Moments of creepy intimacy that get swallowed by chugging violence and spiraling, disintegrating guitars.
As I mentioned last time, I’m not really surprised that I didn’t like this album upon its release, as there is no way that I would have had the patience to appreciate the virtues of this kind of thing. Now, though? It is very pleasing and impressive.
A fairly typical example of the trite “alt rock” side of NIN on display during this era, but a reasonably tight and hooky one all the same. This song feels like a minor piece, but it still showcases the great sounds of the record as a whole. In moving from section to section, there are enough twists and turns to ensure that this tune isn’t an absolute throwaway. Not bad.
Remember that video where Scary Terry got real mad and threw a bunch of baseballs at celebrity face sculptures? I always hated that video and I think that it coloured my outlook on this whole album.
This song kind of sucks. The chorus is practically a Marilyn Manson song, which… maybe that was intentional? I don’t know. The hilariously blown-out EDM drums of the verses don’t do the song any favours and it all just seems a little silly. And unnecessary. And yet they made it a single? Great Carly Simon reference, though.
A bit of a dud of an instrumental track, as it kind of just sounds like a Stabbing Westward song without vocals. Should I do a series reevaluation Stabbing Westward? Only time will tell!
Not great. This is the kind of fat that could have been trimmed to make this a standard LP.
I’m Looking Forward To Joining You Finally
I find this song more interesting than good. The chorus is uncharacteristically sweet and melodic in its use of harmonies and restraint, but the rest of it sounds more like a sketch than a song. It’s all just percussion, rudimentary bass and wacky sound effects. It isn’t awful to listen to, but there isn’t a lot going on to maintain devoted attention.
The sporadic creepy piano twinkles are killer, though.
The Big Come Down
Great sonics and a great feeling of menace help this song rise to the ranks of this album’s best. The chorus is just hooky enough to work and sounds even better in its instrumental reprise in the song’s back half. As a whole, “The Big Come Down” is a mechanical nightmare of a similar quality to some of the great work on The Downward Spiral. Very nice.
I haven’t talked about the lyrics on this album much, because they aren’t much to write home about. This song is no exception, really. It’s all just boilerplate white guy that feels oppressed by something stuff.
Underneath It All
This would have been a pretty terrific instrumental song, but the vocal part causes it to sound more like an unfinished little puddle of ideas than a fully-conceived song. The trilling, speedy drum samples are just great and give the proceedings an amphetamine-laced feeling of panic. Not a great finished product, but a lot of fun elements at play here.
Ripe (With Decay)
Oh, this should be cheery.
This sounds like Tron Rebootzner went back in time a few years and stole all of the acoustic guitars that Alice In Chains used to record Jar of Flies because he thought it was a good idea to sound like that. I disagree, but I can’t argue with the overall results of their implementation here. “Ripe” is an instrumental that runs the gamut of this album’s already established motifs. Sections of subdued instrumentation simmer and boil over into noisy chaos only to subside and then boil over again. It isn’t the best instrumental of the collection, but I would take it over most of the more traditional songs. This album is really long, and I feel kind of burnt out on it after only listening to this back half of it.
Man oh man.
The second half of The Fragile has succeeded in proving out my thoughts of the first half of The Fragile. This sounds like the work of a person who was getting very interested in the crafting of sounds and atmosphere at the expense of his interest in songs. Interviews with Reznor himself confirm as much.
So we have an album containing a huge amount of material that could have easily been one pretty disappointing rock n’ roll LP, one very interesting and good experimental/instrumental LP, or one actually pretty excellent LP that is a mix of the two. It doesn’t work at all as a double album and I can’t imagine what it must be like to listen to the whole thing consecutively. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.
I can’t help but feel that a really satisfying LP could have been crafted using the best material on both discs. The question is what would that track listing look like? There’s a comments section below, so feel free to let me know if you’ve got any thoughts on the matter.
In the meantime, I’m going to be mentally preparing to take on NIN’s (shudder) post-2000 output in the next installment.