"Watching fate as it flows down the path we have chose," sings Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor. And on the two CDs that comprise THE FRAGILE, that path is bleak, brutal, whiny, and pretty damn cathartic to boot. From the My Bloody Valentine feedback washes of the first single, "The Day the World Went Away" to doom 'n' boom dance-noise workouts like "Just Like You Imagined" and "Even Deeper" to a classic industry hate-spiel "Starfuckers Inc.," FRAGILE is a sprawling, overwrought maelstrom of vitriolic sonics and tightly wound nausea. The downright slammin' "No, You Don't" might be straightforward enough in its pursuit of a Ministry-style groove grind, but, for the most part, this album ebbs and flows like a tidal pool of black beats and sonic scar tissue. When it opens, it thankfully spews forth some of the most potent pop and ambitious beat programming of Trent's career. (See the love anthem "The Fragile" or the gorgeous instrumental, "La Mer.") Throughout, atmospheric cuts like "The Way Out Is Through" merge with complex electro-acoustic experiments like the avant-funky "Into the Void" and flat-out dirge-boogies like "Where Is Everybody?" Lyrically, it's predictable blather: Reznor can come across as the archetypal spoiled little piggie, bawling "me me me" all the way home until he can get behind his synth and spray venom at a world that knows no justice. Sure, the brooding can get a little boring. But, hey, in an age when every new chump on the goth block, from Manson
, is trying to jack his shtick, it's nice to see the primo prophet of postindustrial alienation keeping pace with the young bucks.