Being Fragile: a Nine Inch Nails review

When The Fragile hit the shelves back in 1999, people were expecting a similar record to its predecessor: one of the greatest Rock albums ever known, The Downward Spiral. But Trent Reznor wasn’t into Rock anymore.

And people didn’t get Trent had changed since 1994. Due to pressure, drugs, social anxiety and the inability to cope with his rockstar fame, his mental health began to decline dramatically and he would often hide in the studio and instead produce music to avoid having to deal with reality.

Therefore, The Fragile would take on a very different direction and mood than The Downward Spiral, resulting in a lot of mixed reception. On Pitchfork, reviewer and incompetent son of a bitch Brent DiCrescenzo gave the record a 2.0 out of 10; his critique essentially consisting of “I have listened to this once in my car and I also dislike the lyrics but I don’t know shit about music production”1. Ironically, a 2017 re-review had the album at 8.7 points. So much for “The Most Trusted Voice in Music” that seems to be quite a schizophrenic one.

The Fragile is an album that needs to grow on you, and I don’t mean the simplistic and sometimes quite superficial lyrics. It’s the whole package. With 23 tracks on the CD release, The Fragile is a monolith of a record, as is its sharpened, heavy package. There’s also a booklet with interesting and sometimes glitched close-ups and blurry photographs. Often, these images inspired the former header graphics I made some months ago.

While it may also be regarded as a concept album, The Fragile has no real plot. It resembles messed-up thoughts and dark ideas that sometimes don’t know how to get to an end. This central motive is also expressed in the various styles that are munged into the respective songs. Sometimes, the sound is aggressive, like on the first track or on “No You Don’t”. Then, we get to know the protagonist’s (likely Trent) softer, more introverted side, until we finally get to hear “La Mer”, probably the most beautiful suicide note ever expressed in music, written when Trent was very close to ending his life near the sea. The fact that he resisted this urge, though, represents the album’s spirit not to give up and stick to the beauty in the world, even if it often comes together with pain; at least that’s how I see it.

The second disc of the double album reiterates these motives, but as already said, it doesn’t provide a solution, it doesn’t come to an end.

Can you hear me? About 10 years ago or so I locked myself away in a house on the ocean, and I tried to… I said I was trying to write music. Some of which wound up on The Fragile.
But what I was really doing was trying to kill myself. And the whole time I was away by myself, I managed to write one song, which is this song. So when I play it I feel pretty weird about it, because it takes me back to a pretty dark and awful time in my life.
It’s weird to think how different things are now: I’m still alive, I haven’t died yet. And I’m afraid to go back to that place because it feels kind of haunted to me, but I’m going to go back. I’m going to get married there.

Trent Reznor before playing La Mer in 2009

Maybe this is why I like the album so much. It won’t help you to get out of the chaos. But it gives you a way to channel your anger, your fear and your hopelessness that seem to crush you elsewise. And as we can learn from Trent, even the darkest moments in your life will pass. Look at him now. He even got an Oscar. So, in a long timeline, The Fragile may be even called an optimistic album.

And, as time passes, the album turns into what you may call a good old friend, someone that says “I feel you. I understand what you’re going through, and you’re not alone.” The record runs through every face of human emotion when dealing with depression and manages to express it beautifully via sound. Especially the opener, “Somewhat Damaged”, was terribly relatable to 2016-Jonas, while he was trying to overcome … something. And he related so much he learned the lyrics by heart after the first listen.

So impressed with all you do
Tried so hard to be like you
Flew too high and burnt the wing
Lost my faith in everything
[…]
How could I / ever think
It’s funny how / everything that / swore it wouldn’t change
Is different now
Just like you / would always say / we’ll make it through
Then my head / fell apart
And where were you?

“Somewhat Damaged”

But obviously I’m not 2016-Jonas and I’ve never been, and I deny any connection.

On top of the lyrical content, or, underneath it all, the whole production quality is insanely good and Reznor used around 30 different synthesizers and lots of other geeky shit to create his true Magnum Opus.2 One needs to hear ramming, merciless kicks from “The Wretched”, the detuned piano in “La Mer” or the cinematic soundscapes of “The Great Below” to understand.

In the end, I’d like to say that I would have also made it this far in life without The Fragile on my bed table.

I’d like to.


  1. Here are more reasons why DiCrescenzo is a total failure of a reviewer. “Words accumulate and stick in his mouth like eye crust” is by far the funniest thing ever written to describe an album that’s been given a ten on Pitchfork. 

  2. NinWiki has an impressive list of equipment used for production online. 

  • written by jonas