After nearly half a decade, Nine Inch Nails makes a triumphant return with a sprawling, tension-filled double-disc set that, if nothing else, reminds us just how talented Trent Reznor really is. Gone is the overt viciousness that passed for emotion on NIN's last two outings; instead, on "The Fragile," Reznor intelligently taps into the human wavelength, relying on static discharge and studio trickery only when necessary.
The atmosphere Reznor creates is nothing short of brilliant. Dark, ambient passages weave in and out of the tortured compositions, yielding a soundtracklike experience. There are nods to his glorious past -- several cuts on disc two recall the electric funk of Pretty Hate Machine -- but for the most part, the new record inhabits a forward-thinking space. Once again, NIN has set the tone for industrial music for at least the next five years.