Nine Inch Nails returns to scene with two-disc set, The Fragile

Trent Reznor has made some of the most influential music in years, with albums such as Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. Now, after a six-year absence, he’s returned with The Fragile (Nothing Records), a double-disc set with more than 20 songs. Was it worth the wait? Yes. Although it’s not the masterpiece people expected, it’s still a great album.

After all this time, some things haven’t changed at all. Reznor still has no clue how to write a melody. But, he can blend sounds together. For the first six songs, he meshes pounding drums, crashing guitars and screaming vocals. The sound is neat at first, but after four or five songs, it gets dull.

The first real song is the sixth track, “The Fragile.” Although the listener has to endure some mediocre songs to get to it, “The Fragile” is worth the wait. It is one of the best songs Reznor has made. In this song, the pounding drums, crashing guitars and screamed vocals blend together into a song that is powerful and moving. “The Fragile” is a rarity for Nine Inch Nails because it’s a love song, and a fairly upbeat one.

Other good songs are scattered throughout the album. “Even Deeper” is a cold, chilling song with an electronic sound that goes back to the music of Pretty Hate Machine. Another interesting tidbit about the song – it was produced by Dr. Dre. “The Great Below” is another haunting track that has a more intimate, borderline-claustrophobic sound.

Unlike most bands that put their best music on the first disc of a set, the second disc of “The Fragile” is in many ways better than the first. It goes back to doing what Nine Inch Nails always has done well – angry, dark songs. “The Void” has an opening that sounds as if it was taken from the theme of “Rugrats.” Then the song flows into a sleazy electro-pop track.

“Where Is Everybody” is another song that uses electronics the same way Reznor did on Pretty Hate Machine. He actually sings on many of the songs on the second disc instead of just screaming. “Starfuckers, Inc.” is a great, blistering attack on Marilyn Manson – something that should have been done a long time ago.

“I’m Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally” is another almost-love song. This track also is one of the rare times Reznor takes the less-is-more approach – whispered voice, a bare synth accompaniment and an emphasis on percussion. It works.

On the upside, it’s great to see the return of a true rock talent to the top of the music charts to blast away the awful alternative groups in the industry. Plus, some good songs are on the album.

But as the Clash said when it released the three-disc set, Sandinista, “If we had made it one disc, it would have been amazing. If we had made it two discs, it would have been great. But no, we had to make it three!” The Fragile would have been better if the mediocre tracks had been pared away so they didn’t drag down the highlights. But, if you’re willing to wade through it all, there’s a lot to enjoy.

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