The opening track “The Way Out Is Through” can build this scenic view of self-destruction through a pinhole crack. As the track begins to tear further and further through the skin, “The Way Out Is Through” becomes almost intimating and daunting as a production.
The once atmospheric structuring instead loses its human grasp, becoming a conquering force of synthesizers and is a regrouping of the troops for a second wave. The percussion especially is less frantic, becoming more militant, and is a machine that stomps the skull instead of caressing.
Pieces that follow like “Into The Void” become the bloodline for Nine Inch Nails as they feed off this synthetic rhythm that tangles into Trent Reznor’s vocal delivery. The only living element of “Into The Void” and most of The Fragile, Reznor as a narrator is broken and fractured, taking the audience into personal loss through the noise.
He describes, “Talking to myself all the way to the station, pictures in my head of the final destination. All lined up, all the ones that aren’t allowed to stay. Tried to save myself but my self keeps slipping away.” The layering of Reznor’s vocals toward the end of the track almost has enough copies to create a choir of himself.
One of the more industrial and whipping tracks of The Fragile, “Starfuckers, Inc.” is declarative as a stance for sound. The glitching vocal cuts are an engaging way to create depth to the performance, but the track instrumentally is where it shines. “Starfuckers, Inc.” While lyrically it is a distinct disdain for celebrity, Nine Inch Nails is able to shatter the eardrums with minimal effort.
Especially in the last moments where Reznor becomes a belligerent mess through shouts and harsh walls that he creates around the uproar. The five-minute beatdown has a breaking point though, making one last stand as Reznor describes, “Now I belong, I’m one of the chosen ones. Now I belong, I’m one of the beautiful ones. I have become.”
Much of The Fragile as disc two operates to be much faster, more animalistic, and less forgiving on the instrumentation. “Underneath It All” is like being crushed by a mountain of sound. The sonic capability of these harsh rattling undertones clash and create sparks against the chaos.
Quickly becoming one of the strongest displays from Nine Inch Nails, “Underneath It All” is the final pegs being placed. One more layer of dirt to cover the coffin while the audience begs to be freed. When the guitars begin to make their way into the frame; sound equates to pain.
While being the longest release from Nine Inch Nails at the time, the Fragile still has this angelic beauty to the way that it is sequenced. Never truly falling to pieces, the Fragile loses limbs and ligaments track by track until the soundtrack to extinction becomes clear.