At Midnight Monday, The Clock Struck Nine (Inch Nails)

Fans shop late to be among first to buy industrial-rock band's first album in five years, The Fragile.

NEW YORK — It was 11:45 p.m. on Monday at the Virgin

Megastore in Times Square, and Japhet Gaengan was restless. The

18-year-old stroked his hair and looked at his watch as midnight —

and the release of the new Nine Inch Nails album, The Fragile

approached.

"I can't wait 15 f---ing minutes," Gaengan, of Manhattan, shouted to no

one in particular.

Gaengan was not alone in expressing his giddiness. He was one of 50

people lined up to buy Nine Inch Nails' first album in five years the

moment it went on sale. By 12:10 a.m., the line at the store's front set

of registers extended past the revolving-door entrance and swung around

a kiosk of DVD movies.

Several people who had come to the store, which is open until 1 a.m.

every night, to buy other albums, movies or books looked confused. "We

do have registers open around the store, especially in the downstairs

area," a voice said over the store's public-address system. But only a

handful left for the escalators.

The album in question, The Fragile, a 23-song, 2-CD set of jagged

electronic songs about betrayal, mental instability and other such

topics, blasted throughout the store as these early birds lined up to

purchase it, on sale for $19.99. They smiled as they left the store,

their discs in promotional black Nine Inch Nails bags.

The sales clerks did not smile. Six of them worked registers for the

midnight sale, which also featured ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell's

first solo album, Euphoria Morning, and piano balladeer Tori

Amos' to venus and back. Another employee unloaded merchandise

and served as utility man.

In all, the store made several hundred copies of The Fragile

available for the initial sale, according to a store employee who would

not give her name. She said employees are not allowed to speak to the

media.

Customers were more than willing to discuss The Fragile.

"I listened to the whole album on the radio," Mark Radoncic, 17, of

Manhattan, said. "It's amazing."

The effect the band's earlier work had on him, especially Pretty Hate

Machine (1989), made it worth going to Times Square at midnight,

Radoncic said.

"I can totally relate to Trent Reznor," Autumn Carlton, 27, of

Hackensack, N.J., said, referring to Nine Inch Nails' mastermind. "He's

just a f---ing genius."

She said the lyrics to "Hurt," from the band's previous

studio album, The Downward Spiral (1994), were "just intense. I

was so high when I [first] saw the video."

The Fragile, recorded at Reznor's New Orleans studio, is more

spare than his previous work, and much of it features what sound like

live drums — instead of the mechanical thwack of programmed drums

that propelled such early hits as "Head Like a Hole." There are still

plenty of electronic beats: The title track (RealAudio excerpt) is built on a spooky

sheet-metal guitar riff, thunderclap drum programming and the chanted

chorus, "I won't let you fall apart." The opening track, "Somewhat

Damaged" (RealAudio excerpt),

which opens with an acoustic-guitar loop, sounds like

primal scream therapy, with Reznor shouting over a funk bass lick and

climbing drum beat.

Gaengan said the songs he heard in the weeks leading up to the release

surprised him. He described them as "kind of happier, for [Reznor]

anyway."

"I just want to hear how his music has grown over the years," Gaengan

said. "I'm tired of the regular, normal [pop]. It's not interesting. It

doesn't make you think."

Tower Records on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip allowed five people to enter

the store at a time, starting at midnight, to buy The Fragile,

according to assistant manager John Sniger. Seventy-five copies were

sold.

"This is probably the biggest [release] we've had all year," Sniger

said, adding that the store had ordered an initial shipment of 1,200

copies. "It's been a long-awaited album."

Nothing Records, the Interscope Records imprint run by Reznor, announced

last week that it would initially ship 1 million copies of The

Fragile to stores.