Opening with “Somewhat Damaged,” the gentle acoustic guitar is foreboding in ways but never too sadistic. That remains the tone until the percussion steps in, less of an electronic kick, the stomping bass drum is a marching rhythmic punisher. When Trent Reznor finally shatters the grass frame so beautifully constructed, The Fragile is a reflection of bruised narration and an admiration for the nihilistic tonality.
He illustrates, “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.” As an electronic orchestra forms around Reznor given by Charlie Clouser on keyboards and synths; the gates of sonic hell swing wide open. Danny Lohner on the percussion programming constricts around the audience and for the first time on a Nine Inch Nails record, the environment is less about atmosphere and more about the elegance of silence.
While layers and layers of noise attack the audience, “Somewhat Damaged” uses breaks in the instrumentation to reflect on just what an all-out war The Fragile can be at times. Later tracks like “The Frail” are shockingly harrowing but conjoined to this articulated piano solo that could bring tears to the eye of a sadist.
As major chords strike on the keys, Nine Inch Nails uses “The Frail” to be the moment of recovery directly before an immense relapse. That relapses summons in the form of “The Wretched.”
A track based entirely on those same chords used previously, but now turned to be minor and torment is right around the corner for the audience. Appearing as a grenade wrapped in mechanical implementation, the sudden rise of emotion attached to the chorus sweeps the leg of the audience but elicits a smile to the cruel and inhumane.
Describing, “Now you know, this is what it feels like. The clouds will part and the sky cracks open.” As Reznor continues, he becomes more and more belligerent with each passing word; describing, “And God himself will reach his fucking arm through. Just to push you down, just to hold you down.”
Much of The Frail is entirely based on the creation of space and how to manipulate that same physique into being either the salvation or the hammer for the audience. Later pieces like “Even Deeper” are a loss of self where the simple percussion is anxious at first but conforms and shatters into something more brutal.
Human voice is lacking and instead, Reznor is the only authentic piece for “Even Deeper” while synthetic instrumentation surrounds the audience like riot police. The beating comes in the form of 808s and crushing cymbals but isn’t as aggressive as it is systematic.
While The Fragile as a complete project is nearly two hours of content, the first half takes audiences through a dungeon of progressive sound without forcing them to be a lab rat. The rat in this case instead chooses their own misery while hordes of noises pour in from all sides of the maze.