So, I grew up in a pretty conservative household. I went to two impossibly tiny Christian high schools (I graduated in a class of 10 people) and wasn’t allowed to ride with another totally-legal-to-drive teenager until I was almost 17.
I’d like not to believe that this upbringing influenced my opinion on Nine Inch Nails, but it did. This thinking is obviously quite flawed, but it took me a long time to see that.
Up front, I want to address something that’s been bugging me for like, a decade and a half: there is a certain stigma attached to NIN, probably because of the years 1988-1999. I won’t say that anyone who believes Trent Reznor/et al are “Satanic” or “devil worshipers” is particularly unfounded.
What I will say is that the notion is ridiculous and hyperbolic.
Despite whatever problem you may have with their lyrical content, stance on the government, or views on organized religion, any mere suggestion that this band is “evil” is asinine.
And another thing: like what you want to like. Don’t let anyone tear down what you listen to or what you enjoy. The fact that you may listen to Nine Inch Nails doesn’t make you depressed or “goth” or suicidal, just like listening to Wham! doesn’t make you gay. However, listening to Chris Brown will make you a perpetrator in a domestic violence case, so please avoid that.
And one MORE thing: get off my lawn.
Now that that’s out of the way: Nine Inch Nails’ 1999 release, The Fragile, is possibly their best record, and certainly the most important.
For this entry, I will only be listening at the “Left” Fragile (which is to say, disc 1). At 23 tracks and over 100 minutes long, it’s the only way I could get through this without writing an essay.
The Fragile was released 5 years after the hugely popular The Downward Spiral (1994). And what it lacks in strong lyrics, it makes up for with some of the most inventive and creative industrial rock tracks, even some 14 years after it release.
“Somewhat Damaged” is a driving track that seems to endlessly build on the recorded version, but live versions like this one prove to be way more satisfying.
“The Day The Whole World Went Away,” in spite of its melodramatic title, is one of the highlights of this ‘side’ of The Fragile, especially with its fuzzed-out guitars and chanting vocals near the end. “The Frail” and “The Wretched” back-to-back are a pair of piano-driven tunes that play into a pseudo “good cop/bad cop” sort of role. But I guess in this scenario, it’d be… demure cop/overly aggressive cop? I don’t know, made sense to me before it was written out.
“We’re In This Together Now” is the second single from The Fragile, and is a mammoth at 7 minutes. Even the radio edits only cut the song to 5 minutes. All of the guitar on the first side of Fragile is solid work, and because of the length of the song, is at its most obvious here.
Title-track “The Fragile” is the spurn for that scathing Pitchfork review, and it’s certainly merited from a lyrical sense. But Trent Reznor never claimed to be any sort of poet. He’s a musical genius. So what if some of the lyrics on his 23-track, near two-hour album are suspect? Bloggers be so picky, man.
“Just Like You Imagined” is my favorite selection from the left side. If you know anything about time signatures, it’s performed in 10/4. I have a ton of respect for drummers because I have approximately negative rhythm – as in, I have so little, I’ve actually/spiritually drawn some away from the people born at the same time as me.
The song is an instrumental most notably heard on the trailer for 300. It’s a great selection because the song is super theatrical in nature.
But track sequencing dictates that sometimes bad songs have to follow good songs, and such is evident with “Even Deeper.” Avoid it.
“Pilgrimage” is what I imagine robots to sound like when they’re marching after becoming sentient. It will probably give you anxiety. “No, You Don’t” is the second low light/dud of this side. How does that happen? A questionably bad song followed by/following a good tune.
“La Mer” (French for “the sea”) may be the prettiest dern little NIN song you ever did hear, y’all, and it’s followed by a most haunting tune, “The Great Below” (for disc 1, anyway).
Later this year, whenever #248 rolls around, I’ll talk about the “Right Side” of The Fragile and how killer of a tune “Into the Void” is. FORESHADOWING!
All-in-all, The Fragile is a highly influential industrial record that sounds as fresh today in 2013 as it did in 1999. It’s dark and gritty and edgy and at times kind of makes you roll your eye. But its place in the NIN catalog as the transformative record from industrial radio rock to more electronically-influenced metal/rock can’t be understated.
And for what it’s worth, if you only ever watch one Trent Reznor-related video, let it be this one.
Standout tracks: “Somewhat Damaged” and “Just Like You Imagined”
Weakest track: “Even Deeper” and “No, You Don’t”
RIYL: Industrial, metal to a certain extent. How to Destroy Angels, Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie. The “similar” artists are kind of all over the place for this band.