(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay is an opinion piece and
does not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc. or its affiliated companies.)
Editorial Director Michael Goldberg writes:
A year ago, the cryptic campaign to create a buzz around the Nine Inch
Nails album, The Fragile, began with a 30-second commercial on
MTV featuring NIN frontman, Trent Reznor, singing a bit of "Into the
Void": "Tried to save myself but myself keeps slipping away."
The ad, and a subsequent quirky marketing campaign, certainly caught my
attention, and over time set us up to expect something even stranger
from Reznor than his groundbreaking previous albums, Pretty Hate
Machine (1989) and The Downward Spiral (1994).
The Fragile (RealAudio
excerpt of title track) was released Tuesday, and this first NIN
studio album in five years is an epic work. No surprise. Though I know
that Reznor, at least from comments he's made to reporters from the
New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Time magazine,
went through a mild depression during which he doubted his abilities, I
and hundreds of thousands of other fans knew that when a new NIN album
finally was finished, it would be the bomb.
What is surprising to me is the halfhearted raves the album has been
getting from some critics. While Time, of all publications, gives
the album its due, the Los Angeles Times gives it 3 1/2 stars.
The Fragile "... feels too long," writes critic Robert Hilburn.
Spin's Ann Powers likes it better, but still gives it a nine out
of 10, one short of a masterpiece. Entertainment Weekly's Will
Hermes says "Right now, hard rock doesn't get any smarter, harder, or
more ambitious than this." But that still earns the album merely an A-.
Rolling Stone checks in with four out of five stars. Writes Rob
Sheffield: "Now that you mention it, The Fragile does run a little
long, doesn't it? But excess is Reznor's chosen shock tactic, and what's
especially shocking is how much action he packs into his digital via
Even SonicNet can't just give Reznor his due. Our critic, Douglas Wolk,
gave it a 3 1/2 out of five rating, cautioning: "But there's a wearying
side to Reznor's rich excesses. The Fragile is clearly meant to
be a grand statement on the scale of Pink Floyd's The Wall, whose
producer Bob Ezrin is credited with 'final continuity and flow.' What it's
got is a serious sprawl problem, with no compelling justification for its
I think the problem is in buying into the hype, then being let down by
the real thing.
I mean, imagine you've spent the past five years thinking that The
Downward Spiral was really awesome, or reading other critics who said
it was really awesome. You see Reznor repeatedly on magazine covers. Then
over the past year you began feeding off the hype so that in your mind
the upcoming album got built up to where you expected the Red Sea to
part and Moses to come on down the mountain toting The Fragile in
his outstretched hands.
With that kind of buildup, no matter how good the album is, how can it
fail to disappoint?
Well I've been listening to The Fragile all week. I loaded it into
my Rio 500 and I've been listening through headphones, in my car, in my
office, wherever I go. Let me tell you, it's no letdown. It's all that!
The album is grand, at times horrifying, at times energizing
ultimately mystifying. It is one of the best two-record sets ever made,
deserving to sit on the shelf beside Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti
(1975), the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street (1972), Bob Dylan's
Blonde on Blonde (1966), Bruce Springsteen's The River
(1980), the Clash's London Calling (1979) and 1999,
(1982) by Prince later known as The Artist.
The music alone is worth the ride. Reznor has spoken of watching Taxi
Driver and of being inspired by the creepy David Cronenberg film
Dead Ringers, and at points The Fragile is just as scary.
No, not scary. Rather, certain pieces of music create a feeling of dread,
of being overwhelmed. Nothing else makes you feel quite like this.
"Flew too high and burnt the wing/ Lost my faith in everything," sings
Reznor in the opening track, "Somewhat Damaged" (RealAudio
I don't know about you, and I don't know about the millions of kids who
are gonna buy this album over the next year or so, but I can relate to
that line. And I could relate to that line back when I was in high school.
In those days, my friends and I had Tamalpais High School wired. We put
on school rock concerts, we wrote about art and music in the school paper,
and we cut classes more often than not to hitchhike up to the record
store, where we got our real education. We thought we had the world
in the palm of our hand, but we found out the hard way that we didn't.
Out of high school and on to college and we were at square one, having
to prove ourselves all over again. Girlfriends dumped us. We found ourselves
working at fast-food joints. In a way, we went from being stars to being
in the gutter.
The success Reznor experienced in the wake of Pretty Hate Machine
and then The Downward Spiral hit him hard. You hear it so often
it's a cliché, that sudden wealth and fame are not easy to handle.
I don't know what it feels like to be Trent Reznor, or to have gone through
what he has. I do know that my own journey, first breaking into Rolling
Stone in the mid-'80s, then founding Addicted To Noise in a
room of my house and taking it through mergers and acquisitions, finding
myself running the most influential daily music news service in the world,
and being a player at the biggest online music network, has been an
interesting one. At times an unsettling one.
"The clouds will part and the sky cracks open/ And God himself will reach
his fucking arm through/ JUST TO PUSH YOU DOWN/ JUST TO HOLD YOU DOWN,"
Reznor sings on "The Wretched."
Oh f--- it, just go get a copy of The Fragile. Like it or hate it,
it's gonna change you if you dig into it, if you let it sink in.
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