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The Fragile (Nine Inch Nails album)

The Fragile
File:Nin-the fragile800.jpg
Studio album by Nine Inch Nails
Released September 21, 1999
Recorded January 1997 – February 1999 at Nothing Studios in New Orleans
Length 103:39
Label Nothing, Interscope
Nine Inch Nails chronology

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Halo numbers chronology
"Halo 13"
"Halo 14"
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Singles from The Fragile
  1. "The Day the World Went Away"
    Released: July 20, 1999
  2. "We're in This Together"
    Released: September 27, 1999
  3. "Into the Void"
    Released: January 10, 2000 (promotional)
  4. "Starfuckers, Inc."
    Released: May 2, 2000 (promotional)

The Fragile is the third studio album and a double album by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, released on September 21, 1999, by Interscope Records. The album was produced by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and long-time collaborator Alan Moulder.

The Fragile peaked at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart in its debut week, before dropping to number 16 the following week.[1] The album was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on January 4, 2000, denoting shipments of two million copies in the United States.[2] Despite some criticism for its length and lyrical substance,[3][4] the album received positive reviews from most music critics. The Fragile was promoted with four singles: "The Day the World Went Away", "We're in This Together", "Into the Void", and "Starfuckers, Inc." A companion remix album, Things Falling Apart, was released in 2000.

Writing and recording

The Fragile was produced by Trent Reznor and Alan Moulder at Nothing Studios, New Orleans. There were some personnel changes within Nine Inch Nails after the Self-Destruct tour, which saw drummer Chris Vrenna replaced by Bill Rieflin and Jerome Dillon, the latter of whom would become Nine Inch Nails' full-time drummer until late 2005. Charlie Clouser and Danny Lohner contributed occasional instrumentation and composition to several tracks although the album was predominantly written and performed by Reznor alone. The Fragile was mixed by Alan Moulder and mastered by Tom Baker. The packaging was created by David Carson and Rob Sheridan.[5]

Music and lyrics

Album version, as it appeared on The Fragile

Album version, as it appeared on The Fragile

Problems playing these files? See media help.

Over a year before the album's release, Reznor suggested – presumably deliberately misleadingly – that the album would "be irritating to people because it's not traditional Nine Inch Nails. Think of the most ridiculous music you could ever imagine with nursery rhymes over the top of it. A bunch of pop songs."[6]

In contrast to the heavily distorted instruments and gritty industrial sounds of their previous album, The Downward Spiral,[7] The Fragile relies more on soundscapes, electronic beats, ambient noise, rock-laden guitar, and the usage of melodies as harmonies. Several music critics noticed influences of the album from progressive rock, art rock, electronica, and avant-garde classical music artists.[8][9] It is categorized as an art rock album by The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004),[10] Edna Gundersen of USA Today,[11] and Will Hermes of Entertainment Weekly. Hermes views that, like "art-rockers" King Crimson and David Bowie, Reznor incorporates elements of 20th-century classical music on the album, "mixing prepared piano melodies à la John Cage with thematic flavor from Claude Debussy".[12] Music journalist Ann Powers observes elements of progressive rock bands King Crimson and Roxy Music, Reznor's influences, and the experimentation of electronica artists such as Autechre and Squarepusher, and writes that The Fragile uses funk bass lines, North African minor-key modalities, and the treatment of tonality by Symbolist composers like Debussy. The album also features several distorted guitar parts which Powers suggests that fans can enjoy.[13] Rob Sheffield observes a "prog-rock vibe" akin to Pink Floyd's 1979 album The Wall and feels that The Fragile is similarly "a double album that vents ... alienation and misery into paranoid studio hallucinations, each track crammed with overdubs until there's no breathing room".[14]

"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 some 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 haunting to me, but I'm going to go back. I'm going to get married [to Mariqueen Maandig] there."

 —Reznor, on the origins of the first instrumental written for the album, "La Mer", at a 2009 performance in Mansfield, MA.[15]

Described by Reznor as a sequel to The Downward Spiral — an album with a plot detailing the destruction of a man — The Fragile is a concept album dealing with his personal issues, including depression, angst, and drug abuse. His vocals, for the most part, are more melodic and somewhat softer, a departure from his harsh and often angry singing in previous works. However, several music critics including Reznor noticed the lack of lyrics on the album.[16][17] The Bulletin interprets it as an industrial rock album about "fear and loathing that could compete with Pink Floyd's The Wall".[18] In some ways, The Fragile is a response to The Downward Spiral. Reznor compared the lyrical content of the two albums:

I wanted this album to sound like there was something inherently flawed in the situation, like someone struggling to put the pieces together. The Downward Spiral was about peeling off layers and arriving at a naked, ugly end. This album starts at the end, then attempts to create order from chaos, but never reaches the goal. It’s probably a bleaker album because it arrives back where it starts — (with) the same emotion. The album begins "Somewhat Damaged" and ends "Ripe (With Decay)".[16]

The song "I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally" is credited in the album's booklet as "for clara", suggesting that the song's topic, like "The Day the World Went Away", is about Reznor's grandmother, Clara Clark.[citation needed]

Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk singled out 'The Wretched' for comment: "I remember being amazed when I first heard this… This wasn't just ennui: this was an active, aggressive, angry lack of caring. It's not 'Let's kill ourselves'; it's 'Let's kill each other'… It's not rock 'n' roll and it's not classical. It's something in between."[19]

According to a CIA document entitled Guidelines for Interrogation Methods the song "Somewhat Damaged" was one of thirteen songs played to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, supposedly as a means of torture.[20]


The cover artwork was designed by David Carson. A section within his book Fotografiks[21][22] reveals that the top section of the album cover is from a photo of a waterfall and the bottom section is from a closeup photo of the inside of some kind of seashell. Carson elaborated on this further in an image on his website:

[The] back [cover] was going to be the front until the last moment. Trent changed it saying 'it was kinda irritating' yet something about it we liked so maybe it fit the music. Front cover flowers I shot outside of Austin, Texas. The 1 hour place called and said they messed up and used the wrong chemicals and the film was ruined. I said 'lemme see 'em anyway'. This is how they came out. Cover image is a waterfall in Iceland and a seashell in the West Indies.[23]


The first single, "The Day the World Went Away", was released two months before the album. "Into the Void" and "We're in This Together" proved to be the album's most successful singles. The B-side "Starfuckers, Inc." was released on the album as a track at the last minute[citation needed], and became The Fragile's last single.

In support of The Fragile, the Nine Inch Nails live band reformed for the Fragility tour. The tour began in late 1999 and lasted until mid-2000, spanning Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and North America.[24] The tour consisted of two major legs, labeled Fragility 1.0 and Fragility 2.0. The live band lineup remained largely the same from the previous tour in support of The Downward Spiral, featuring Robin Finck on guitar, Charlie Clouser on keyboards, and Danny Lohner on bass guitar.[25][26] Reznor held open auditions to find a new drummer, eventually picking then-unknown Jerome Dillon.[27]

Nine Inch Nails' record label at the time, Interscope Records, reportedly refused to fund the promotional tour following The Fragile's lukewarm sales. Reznor instead committed himself to fund the entire tour himself, which had quickly sold-out. He concluded that "the reality is, I’m broke at the end of the tour," but also added "I will never present a show that isn’t fantastic."[28]

The tour featured increasingly large production values, including a triptych video display created by contemporary video artist Bill Viola.[29] Rolling Stone magazine named Fragility the best tour of 2000.[30]

In 2002, the tour documentary And All That Could Have Been was released featuring performances from the Fragility 2.0 tour. While making the DVD, Reznor commented on the tour in retrospect by saying "I thought the show was really, really good when we were doing it",[31] but later wrote that "I can't watch it at all. I was sick for most of that tour and I really don't think it was Nine Inch Nails at its best."[32]


On September 21, 2009 (the tenth anniversary of the album's release), a Nine Inch Nails official Twitter update hinted that a deluxe 5.1 surround audio reissue of The Fragile was in the works and was scheduled for a 2010 release.[33]

During an interview with The New York Times that was broadcast on January 7, 2011, after questioned about the album Reznor explained:

The Fragile is weird because when it came out it felt like everyone hated it to me, and now it feels like it's everyone's favorite album, fan-wise. I was probably going to save this for some other announcement, but Alan Moulder's spent a couple of months restoring all the multitracks, prepping for a surround mix, and we plan on doing that this spring, and I'm not sure when it's going to come out but it's just something I'd like to get done and there's no record better than that to get surround mixed. It has to be Alan Moulder, and we both look back at that record – I've just spent some time with him now, he's still a very good friend of mine – and the experience of doing it in the bound that we had in literally two years, every day working together on that, was one of the best times in our lives. I think, in hindsight, I should have had [The Fragile] two single records, much Radiohead style with Kid A and Amnesiac, recorded at once, broken into two digestible chunks. Hey, it is what it is, but I thought about going back, redoing bits that I would mess around with to see how it would be if I were to do that record now, but I don't know if I should phase. Sometime this year expect something to come out surround-wise.[34]

While on tour in 2014 in Australia and New Zealand, Reznor was interviewed by a local reporter and was quoted about the reissue stating:

Yeah, we've done a lot of the work for that. Really what it's come down to is with all the other stuff going on, the Fragile thing in particular, I want to make sure I get it right. You know, we've mixed everything in surround, it sounds amazing, we have a great package ready to go. I just stumbled across 40-or-so demos that are from that era that didn't turn into songs, that range from sound effects to full-fledge pieces of music, and I kind of feel like - something should happen with that.

And I think it has something to do with that package, and I just need the bandwidth to kind of calmly think about it, and decide how much effort I want to devote into that and what to do with it. I have a lot of ideas that could eat up immense amounts of time and I'm trying to weigh out - just think it through. I don't want to pull the trigger on something and go, 'Man, I should have done it in this way.' And I just haven't had a chance to be in a calm place where I can think it through completely and make that decision.[35]


Commercial performance

The Fragile was not as much of a commercial success as The Downward Spiral. Despite topping the Billboard chart by selling 228,000 copies in its first week,[36] the album fell to number 16 afterward, setting an achievement for the biggest drop from number one,[37] a record broken by Marilyn Manson's The Golden Age of Grotesque in 2003. Nine Inch Nails would later return to the top spot with With Teeth (2005), which debuted at number one and sold faster than The Fragile.[38] On January 4, 2000, the album was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipments of two million copies in the United States.[2] Steven Hyden of The A.V. Club writes that Reznor developed Nine Inch Nails from its role as a prominent rock act and by the time he finished recording The Fragile, alternative rock's overall popularity declined with several of Nine Inch Nails' contemporaries being disestablished or displaced by newer bands. Hyden also attributes the album's commercial performance to the rise of file-sharing on the Internet, which deviated from the alternative rock movement's emphasis on "fetishized vinyl" and "music festivals as peaceful places for young people to commune and dream of better futures."[39]

Critical response

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Source Rating

The Fragile received generally positive reviews from contemporary music critics.[44] Mojo called it "an impressively multi-textured, satisfyingly violent sonic workout",[45] and Alternative Press found it "nothing short of astounding".[46] Edna Gundersen of USA Today called it "meticulously honed and twisted to baffle, tantalize, disarm and challenge the listener", and wrote that "the coats of polish ... can't camouflage Trent Reznor's perverse and subversive paths to musical glory."[11] Ann Powers of Spin called the album "a good old-fashioned strap-on-your-headphones experience".[13] Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that, although he "doesn't approach suicide as he did on" The Downward Spiral, "Reznor can hide in the studio and piece together music that's as cunning, and disquieting, as his raw anger used to be."[8] Will Hermes of Entertainment Weekly viewed that, even "if [Reznor's] emotional palette is limited, it remains broader than any of his metalhead peers", and that, "right now, hard rock simply doesn't get any smarter, harder, or more ambitious than this."[12] Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times wrote that, despite its length, "this is a profoundly challenging and moving work that strikes at the hollowness of most contemporary pop-rock with bullwhip force."[42] Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield felt that the album's "excess is Reznor's chosen shock tactic here, and what's especially shocking is how much action he packs into his digital via dolorosa."[14]

In a negative review, Pitchfork Media's Brent DiCrescenzo panned the album's lyrics as "overly melodramatic".[3] John Aizlewood of Q felt that it is "let down by Reznor's refusal to trouble himself with melody and by some embarrassing lyrics".[43] NME panned its music as "background" and accused it of "chas[ing] 'crossover'", with "grey rock sleet masquerading as a storm beneath a haze of 'experimental' textures."[4] Scott Seward of The Village Voice facetiously commended Reznor for "once again ... pioneering the marriage of heavy guitars, moody atmospherics, electronic drones and beats, and aggressive singing. Just like Killing Joke 20 years ago."[47] The Village Voice‍ '​s Robert Christgau graded it a "dud", which he later revised as a "B",[41] indicating "a bad record whose details rarely merit further thought".[48] Christgau felt that "Reznor delivers double-hoohah, every second remixed till it glistens like broken glass on a prison wall. Is the way he takes his petty pain out on the world a little, er, immature for a guy who's pushing 35? Never mind, I'm told—just immerse in the music".[41]

The Fragile was included on several magazines' "end-of-year" album lists, including The Village Voice (#14), Rolling Stone (#4), and Spin (#1).[49] In a retrospective review, The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) gave it three-and-a-half out of five stars and wrote that, as "NIN's monumental double-disc bid for the art-rock crown, The Fragile sounds fantastic from start to finish, but there aren't enough memorable tunes underneath the alluring surfaces."[10] AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine offered similar criticism, writing that "Reznor's music is immaculately crafted and arranged, with every note and nuance gliding into the next — but he spent more time constructing surfaces than songs. Those surfaces can be enticing but since it's just surface, The Fragile winds up being vaguely unsatisfying."[40] In 2005, The Fragile was ranked number 341 in Rock Hard magazine's book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time.[50]

Track listing


All songs written and composed by Trent Reznor, except where noted. 
Left disc
No. Title Length
1. "Somewhat Damaged" (Reznor, Danny Lohner) 4:31
2. "The Day the World Went Away"   4:33
3. "The Frail"   1:54
4. "The Wretched"   5:25
5. "We're in This Together"   7:16
6. "The Fragile"   4:35
7. "Just Like You Imagined"   3:49
8. "Even Deeper" (Reznor, Lohner) 5:48
9. "Pilgrimage"   3:31
10. "No, You Don't"   3:35
11. "La Mer"   4:37
12. "The Great Below"   5:17
Total length:
Right disc
No. Title Length
1. "The Way Out Is Through" (Reznor, Keith Hillebrandt, Charlie Clouser) 4:17
2. "Into the Void"   4:49
3. "Where Is Everybody?"   5:40
4. "The Mark Has Been Made" (includes a hidden intro to "10 Miles High") 5:15
5. "Please"   3:30
6. "Starfuckers, Inc." (Reznor, Clouser) 5:00
7. "Complication"   2:30
8. "I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally"   4:13
9. "The Big Come Down"   4:12
10. "Underneath It All"   2:46
11. "Ripe (With Decay)"   6:34
Total length:


This release is identical to the CD pressing, with the exclusive addition of "+appendage" attached to the end of "Please".


This release of The Fragile contains the songs "10 Miles High" and "The New Flesh" (both of which were later released as part of the "We're in This Together" single.) The latter track appears on the vinyl version of The Fragile, disc 1 of the European and Japanese "We're in This Together" 3-disc single, and the Australian "Into the Void" single.

"The Day the World Went Away", "The Wretched", "Even Deeper" and "La Mer" are all extended mixes, while the opening and closing of each side eliminates the crossfading between songs found on the CD and cassette versions, due to the nature of the vinyl medium. Finally, "Ripe" was shortened by removing the conclusive "(With Decay)" portion of the song.


Credits for The Fragile adapted from liner notes:[51]

Chart history

Chart positions

Chart procession and succession

Preceded by
Ruff Ryders' First Lady by Eve
Billboard 200 number-one album
October 9–15, 1999
Succeeded by
Human Clay by Creed


Country Certifications
(sales thresholds)
Canada[65] 2x Platinum
United Kingdom[66] Silver
United States[67] 2x Platinum


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  19. Q, June 2006
  20. 13 songs Last accessed June 06, 2012.
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  33. Twitter / Nine Inch Nails: And... we've begun work on...
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  49. Accolades: The Fragile. Acclaimed Music. Retrieved on August 29, 2009.
  50. [...], Rock Hard (Hrsg.). [Red.: Michael Rensen. Mitarb.: Götz Kühnemund] (2005). Best of Rock & Metal die 500 stärksten Scheiben aller Zeiten. Königswinter: Heel. p. 73. ISBN 3-89880-517-4. 
  51. Track listing and credits as per liner notes for The Fragile album
  52. 52.0 52.1 "Australian chart positions". 
  53. "Austrian albums chart" (in German). 
  54. "Belgian (Flanders) albums chart" (in Dutch). 
  55. 55.0 55.1 "The Fragile – Nine Inch Nails". Billboard. 
  56. "Finnish albums chart". 
  57. "French albums chart" (in French). 
  58. "German albums chart". (in German). PhonoNet. 
  59. 59.0 59.1 "New Zealand albums chart". 
  60. "Norwegian albums chart". 
  61. "Swedish albums chart". 
  62. 62.0 62.1 "Nine Inch Nails". The Official Charts Company. 
  63. 63.0 63.1 63.2 "Billboard Music Charts – Search Results – Nine Inch Nails". Billboard. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved September 28, 2007. 
  64. "Nine Inch Nails Survivalism". April 22, 2007. Retrieved June 1, 2007. 
  65. "CRIA database". Canadian Recording Industry Association. 
  66. "BPI database". British Phonographic Industry. 
  67. "RIAA – Gold & Platinum". Recording Industry Association of America. 

External links