FORMED: 1989, Cleveland, OH
Ten years after Pretty Hate Machine gave a comatose rock scene some much-needed electro-shock therapy, nine inch nails' imprint on the genre remains unmatchable. By popularizing electronic music, nine inch nails auteur Trent Reznor rewired the mainstream, inspiring Time magazine to name him "One of the Most Influential People in America," and Spin to praise him as "The Most Vital Artist in Music Today."
The Grammy Award-winning artist is once again forcing the genre's growth - and his own - by pushing both into new territory. His latest, The Fragile (dubbed "The Decade's Most Anticipated Album" by Alternative Press), is a 23-track, double-disc set that clocks in at over 100 minutes of music. Reznor dedicated two solid years to make this record, and the resulting music - bracingly resonant and rich with pictures - reinforces his reputation as a meticulous artisan.
Says Reznor, "I wanted to try new things, fully utilizing the studio while putting more effort into melody and structure. Instead of trying to analyze what I was creating, I just let it flow to see where it went. It was all about not being afraid and it felt very liberating."
Five years since his last full studio album (The Downward Spiral), Reznor still refuses to play by the rules. On The Fragile, structures are detonated and rebuilt; gorgeous melodies are woven into discordant loop-laden racket, and instrumental tangents tumble from one symphonic arrangement to the next. Remarkably, Reznor somehow blends it all to overwhelming effect. Even more surprising is the ratio of strings (slide guitar, violins, cellos, ukuleles, upright bass) to synths, a sound that ultimately gives the record a more organic feel, despite being processed by Reznor's unique filter.
"There's a general theme to the album of systems failing and things sort of falling apart," Reznor explains. "In keeping with the idea of making everything sound a little broken, I chose stringed instruments because they're imperfect by nature. Although it may not sound like it, most of the album is actually guitar - and that includes the orchestral sounds and weird melodic lines. When it came to instruments that I didn't really know how to play - like the ukulele or the slide guitar - we were able to get some really interesting sounds by making the studio the main instrument."
Reznor manipulates everything from ripples of feedback to vocal harmonies in order to serve mood and atmosphere. The result is somewhat cinematic, creating aural movies that evoke images ranging from black and bleak ("Somewhat Damaged," "Starfuckers, Inc.," "No You Don't") to graceful and haunting ("La Mer," "The Great Below"). At the center of the album are clamorous pop songs like "The Day the World Went Away" and the album's first single "We're In This Together," both of which highlight The Fragile's marked melodic bent.
The Fragile was produced by Reznor and engineer/mixer Alan Moulder. As for making the album a double-disc set, Reznor says, "Once we had crossed the line of 74 minutes on a CD, I made the decision to go with 2 discs. It just felt better. It's kind of like Side A and Side B of an album."
Over the course of the past decade, Trent Reznor has started his own label (nothing records), stolen the show at both Lollapalooza and Woodstock '94, produced/exec-produced three CDs for Marilyn Manson and soundtracks for David Lynch ("Lost Highway") and Oliver Stone ("Natural Born Killers"), released a slew of singles and a home video (Closure), and created music for the CD-ROM game, "Quake." Meanwhile, Pretty Hate Machine has gone triple-platinum, topped SoundScan's pop catalog chart, and was named one of the "200 Albums Essential To Any Rock Collection" (Rolling Stone).The Grammy-winning Broken went platinum as well, while The Downward Spiral actually topped them both, debuting at #2 on SoundScan's Top 200, and selling more than 5 million copies worldwide. The latter was also named one of Rolling Stone's "Essential Recordings of the '90's" and one of Spin's "Greatest Albums of the '90's."
"As a fan, I want to listen to an album, not just singles," says Reznor. "I want something that I can sink my teeth into, something that I can listen to a million times, trying to get more out of it with each spin. That's the record I tried to make here. That is The Fragile."