Unbreakable Nine Inch Nails back after 5-year hiatus
Observer Exccentric Magazine April 2000

It's been a while since we've heard from Nine Inch Nails, five long years in fact. So when "The Fragile" was finally released in September 1999, the double-disc set did more than satisfy fickle, hard-to-please rock fans worldwide, it earned the praise of critics everywhere, and begged for the band to get back on the road.

Fresh off the NIN international tour, keyboardist Charlie Clouser called last week from a hotel in Los Angeles to apprise fans of the coming U.S. tour - which happens to begin today.

Proving that performance ability hasn't rusted since the last stint in support of "The Downward Spiral," Clouser said it feels good to get back on the road. When asked the question on many minds addicted to modern rock music - "what took so long?" - Clouser said it didn't feel like a very long time. Add two years of touring, one year working with Marilyn Manson and the next two plugging away on "The Fragile" while holed up in an ex-funeral home/studio in New Orleans, and five years seems like a short hiatus.

Time marks a transition for Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. The Ohio native started the group more than a decade ago, writing, playing and recording material almost completely on his own. Showing the world how pain, anguish, rock, technology and brilliant musical layering can collide into soundscapes of raw power, Reznor redefined music in the early 1990s.

Having slipped out of sight, but never out of mind, NIN have broken through boundaries once again. And more than 100 minutes and 17 tracks later, "The Fragile" weaves and ebbs with moody instrumentals, brittle ballads, and primal sonic experiments.

Recording "The Fragile"

For the first time on an NIN album, there was an opportunity for collaboration. While Reznor and producer/engineer Alan Moulder worked on tracks in the main studio, Clouser and bassist Danny Lohner took copies of songs to their rooms and worked on overdubs, keyboards and textures, later recording the work on computers. "The next time they happened to be working on the song, Trent and Alan would pick through the bits and pieces," said Clouser. "It was the only way we could collaborate without having Trent step aside."

NIN live

"A lot of songs were very simple musically, but we wanted them to have interesting sound textures." The challenge of the material is truly pulling it off in a live setting. "Some of the songs are so thickly layered, no five guys could get up there and play (them)," he said. Performing allows the band freedom to interpret the material on instruments, without the need to duplicate the album.

The result is a more rugged skeleton of a song. "They're not all dressed up with all the intricate bits of candy," described Clouser.

There will be no candy, or bubblegum-pop for that matter, in the vicinity of a Nine Inch Nails show. Ever.

Though the musical climate has migrated toward well-designed pop stars and boy bands, NIN shows no concern. Clouser said it's actually made life easier: "We don't have so much competition anymore. In the early '90s there was Nirvana and Soundgarden and other heavy bands that were really good at what they did, that were innovative and creating something new. Now, no one's doing anything that I haven't heard before."

Still strong

Don't mistake this effort by NIN as a softening; it isn't. "The title came about from Trent's ability to explore a wider spectrum of emotions," said Clouser. "It's not so much hate, pain and rage."

To achieve a sense of fragility, NIN incorporated instruments like cello, ukulele and mandolin, which are difficult to play. The end result was a fractured sound that is unmistakably NIN. "(Reznor) needed a challenge, something that was not going to be a sure bet."

By Stephanie A. Casola