Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile (1999)
After a lengthy five-year period alternating between abuse and sobriety, deaths in the family, and a nasty case of writer’s block, Reznor followed his most successful album, The Downward Spiral, with The Fragile, the most melodramatic and excessive piece of his career. In between records, Reznor contributed to the Natural Born Killers and Lost Highway soundtracks, and maybe as a result, The Fragile has a cinematic bent to it: Pieces from it have been culled by Hollywood to promote films such as Terminator: Salvation (“The Day The World Went Away”), Final Destination (“Into The Void”) and 300 (album highlight “Just Like You Imagined”). More eclectic and progressive than any other Reznor album, The Fragile rockets from soft to loud, slow to fast, from funk to doom metal, sometimes combining all in one with jaw-dropping results, like “The Big Come Down.” The album’s finest moments are its instrumental passages and more epic, progressive suites such as “The Frail”/”The Wretched” and especially “La Mer”/”The Great Below,” which segues from relaxing jazz into a firsthand account of a descent into hell. That song remains among Reznor’s finest.
That said, The Fragile has not aged well. Like most double-albums, it overstays its welcome. Worse, it ping-pongs from the melancholic apocalyptic imagery of its best tracks to some downright immature, would-be-singles. “Where Is Everybody?” and “No, You Don’t” might have been better served as fan-favorite B-sides like “Burn” off The Downward Spiral. And single “Starfuckers, Inc.” should have been left unmade entirely. The Fragile is beautiful, but deeply flawed — Reznor bested it with simplicity years later.