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Arts and Entertainment

NIN's new effort threads the line between beauty and destruction

Steve Cooper, Cavalier Daily Staff Writer

The fourth track on the second disc of Nine Inch Nails' latest release, "The Fragile," begins simply with a haunting, two-minute blend of instrumentation. Next, a period of complete silence. As the timer counts up from 1:52, it becomes evident that the song is not yet over. You start to wonder if your speakers have blown or if your RCA cables have come undone. As the timer crawls towards 2:08, seemingly inhibited, you're officially tormented. Shortly thereafter, the room you sit alone in - listening to yourself breathe - is leveled by the industrial fuzz you dream of at night, and you finally come to grips with Trent Reznor's genius. You're just another victim.

Nine Inch Nails' last large-scale release was 1994's "Downward Spiral." So, how can Trent Reznor wave his magic wand and make NIN disappear for half of a decade without anybody harboring disdain for the man? The answer is simple. His music is alluring. It can't be resisted.

With "The Fragile," Reznor combines his broad instrumental abilities - he could probably glean genius from a jug and a washboard - with his chilling voice to create a two-CD set so inundated with tact and emotion that it is hard to do anything but watch the noise come out of the CD player.

With "The Day the World Went Away," the second song on the first disc, Reznor provides a NIN blueprint. Drowned out and mixed with indecipherable rumblings, Reznor's half-suicidal, frustrated vocals are toppled by unrelenting electric guitars at the climax. This is psychotherapy with keyboards.

The next song is a piano-led number, "The Frail," which is as venomous as it wants to be; although the song never rises in volume itself, it somehow creates a lurking sensation that slowly infiltrates the mind.

The song also transitions seamlessly into "The Wretched," as if the two songs had been created as one unit and then split into soft and hard halves. During "We're In This Together," Reznor couples refreshing, live drums with the first taste of his true vocal ability. The song feels very much like a Filter song, showing how much ex-NIN member Richard Patrick has learned from Reznor.

If there is one song that does not sound like a typical NIN song, however, it is "La Mer," with French guest vocalist Denise Milfort. Although likely too flowery for NIN die hards, it is a clear testament to Reznor's versatility and creativity. A never ending piano loop unites with live drums, as Reznor repeats in English what Milfort said in French, just in case you missed it.

The second disc seems to explore more experimental musical styles than the first, and though many of these efforts are successful individually, the first disc clearly is superior as a whole. On the "Right" disc, - labeled that way because of its position in the CD case - Reznor picks up the vocal pace on "Where is Everybody?" almost to the point of rapping, and this turns out to be one of the least effective moments of the album.

On "Starf-, Inc." there is the album's only dose of jungle drum and bass, giving the song a dance feel. The malicious vocals - complete with lyrics from Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" - and tumultuous electronic rhythms are sure to have Prodigy fans pressing repeat. And with "Underneath it All," Reznor elicits a tribal march feeling, with deep, constant ritualistic drumming.

Although "The Fragile" does contain many prototypical NIN songs - those that introduce something quiet and sinister, only to pummel us with something loud and sinister - NIN's wide use of the musical spectrum can hardly be considered experimental or risky. After all, it's been 10 years now - Trent Reznor owns risky.

Grade: A

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