Deviations shows a whole new side of The Fragile. And it’s Amazing.
I would be lying if I didn’t think that at first glance “The Definitive” versions of Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral and The Fragile seemed to be a bit of marketing gruel to me. I already have the CD versions, Super Audio Versions, Digital WAV and mp3 copies of these albums. I have heard them all 1 million times since the respective release dates. I am pretty sure I know them in all directions. So to spring for “Remastered Specifically by Trent and Company” versions rubbed me a bit sideways, but then I stumbled onto something new. The Fragile: Deviations 1. It also had a pretty hefty price tag associated with it in comparison to the other releases. My copy ran approx $65.00 on Amazon. (Click the pictures above to link to it) It is sold for about $80.00 on the NIN website, plus a hefty shipping charge. Out of all the NIN albums, I somehow hold The Fragile very special to my heart. It just feels right to me. I almost seem to be emotionally invested in that album, because throughout all the themes of that record, I think Trent could not have been more true to the art. So to say there is a special version release only available on vinyl, remastered, including new tracks and different versions of tracks from my favorite album… You had me at the title.
This version includes instrumental mixes and alternate versions of songs that made the album and tracks that did not make the album for one reason or another. One of the best parts of this Alt-Fragile masterpiece is there is a ton of music! This release fills 4 heavy 180 gram vinyl discs to the brim. The gatefold also includes alternate art from the release that was altered or not used. There really is not a lot of other content other than a small insert showing a track listing and a download card for the release in high quality audio format. Each record has a colored coded middle and a similar pixelated picture on the insert identifying it properly. While I was hoping for a big insert about the album similar to what was included on The Definitive Editions of TDS and The Fragile, this one left me wondering for a moment. That moment was short lived until I put on the first record.
I only briefly listened to a few tracks from my copy of TDE and The Fragile (Reviews to come in the future). They were without a doubt amazing and probably left no doubt in my mind that once I listened to these versions of the albums, I would almost feel cheated listening to it on any other media source. This version of The Fragile is just as meticulously prepared. I have listened to these albums over 100 times before. I have never heard the layers of sound spread throughout the sound field so perfectly. The inclusion of every little glitch noise, distorted beep or pop comes to life and I almost feel like I have missed truly hearing this release. I am serious. This version is no joke. The sound is absolutely amazing. No matter what you may have thought about Trent Reznor and his releases in the past, this will totally change it. You can see how this release was perfected and carved into the amazing creation it is. I remember this record took forever to come out after TDS was released and now I can see why. I was impressed the first time I listened on CD. Now it feels like I listened to this release over the years through the worst audio sources possible. I will put all concerns over sound quality to rest. You will not be disappointed.
The funny thing is, when I saw that most of this release was Instrumental and Alternate versions of the same songs I was also skeptical. I thought this was just another cash register button allowing Trent to sell slightly different versions of the album at a premium. I was elated to find that it was the actual opposite. You have to remember that as a consumer, we only hear the final product. The artist has heard the song hundreds or thousands of times before us and has experienced a totally different journey before the final version is laid on the table. These versions that are slightly different or have no vocals truly feel like different songs. Without Trents vocals in the way, it clears and opens the songs into something totally different. They begin to become mutations of themselves and as you get deeper into the listen, you find it hard to tell yourself that you have still heard these songs before. After listening to them in the format presented on this record, I can truly appreciate the Deviation as the title so aptly suggests. I also found it amazing to hear how intricate some of the songs were once the vocals were removed. As an artist myself, when mixing a song there may be little nuances that get missed or drowned out and compromises have to be made for the grace of the finished product. This release gets to be the redux and reprise for Trent.
The songs that make new appearances on this record do have their own special place. I will admit that there are a few that have that demo feel to them and almost like they were left on the cutting room floor for a reason, some of them are totally haunting. I do agree that the original track list on The Fragile does not need the songs from this album. You can listen to these tracks and you will struggle just as I did to try and find a home for them in the complete and original work. I agree that these songs were best left for their own release and this was the perfect platform. As you listen to some of the tracks that did not make the cut you can actually hear different albums start to rear their heads. I can easily hear things from Year Zero and Ghosts that appear quickly with just enough attention for you to recognize exactly what puzzle they belong to. I think that Trent knew this too and could see exactly what tracks did not belong to this theme and space in time. I think that he knew they went somewhere and it was amazing to see them make an appearance years before those albums were released. I think it was important for continuity to release them here and Im glad they finally have a permanent home for everyone to enjoy.
The Fragile: Deviations 1 is a closer look at the chaotic and closely personal record that is The Fragile. It is a record that is a mixture of the personal haunting, torment and disappointments of one individual that are expressed using technology and music to paint a dark tale. Its admirable to have someone share such darkness and even more of a triumph to be able to look back and see that one could have lived through it. It is probably the darkest NIN record I have ever heard. I don’t believe there is any release more powerful than The Fragile. The deviation versions are a way to revisit this album and be able to look at the songs from another angle, stripping away vocals or giving a different interpretation of the track for your discovery. It re-opens wounds. It discomforts, but in the end being able to see the loss of hope in the darkness and the chaos is what is fragile is truly all about. Its not always an uplifting listen, but if you can identify with these tracks then you get to truly experience the beauty of The Fragile.
5 out of 5
Note: When I originally listened to this album the first time, I wanted to immediately record my thoughts on the tracks. Since I can type faster than writing, I decided to keep a log of my initial thoughts as I listened to the tracks. I am including that transcript, un-edited for your review. While this part of the review may be overload, I consider it being thorough. There may be spelling and grammar errors etc, but you may actually find my point of view interesting and want to explore your thoughts. I welcome your thoughts. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @OMSARTIST. I highly recommend this release if you appreciated The Fragile as much as I did. While this release is almost a behind the scenes or super fan release, I believe it is a solid purchase and necessary addition for all NIN enthusiasts and aficionados.
Somewhat Damaged (Instrumental)
Less intro instrumentation before the drums come in.. the drums come in and just sound so daunting, then the guitar comes in and add so much tension. You can start to hear all the pieces slowly fit together to form the chaos. You can actually hear how each track became added to culminate. Even though its instrumental it can still hold its own. It begs to ask the question, when this project was born you have an idea of what it is supposed to be.. by taking the lyrics away, can you make it your own. The hollow portion of the second verse sounds amazing. The hole that is cut from less instruments adds an empty feeling in your gut. Again it takes on another shape. Almost makes you think that if you had to add lyrics to this, how could you do it. Misc synths running at the end on fade out. You can see how this was a producers cut and it should be released as such. Only for the ones who truly treasure this release. This is a new life to the artwork that is the fragile.
The day the world went away (instrumental)
The droning and stretching of the notes are focused and allow you time to dwell on them. Giving instrumentals of these dark songs only makes them darker. As if someone was with you in the haunted house a moment ago, only to find out your by yourself and making more haunting. The distorted guitar and bass are overcoming the other tracks demanding your focus. I was skeptical about getting a producers cut with a lot of tracks that are instrumental, but I see now exactly what Trent wants us to see. Tracks fading off of the left channel making it seem missing and frustrating. The acoustic that strums to a helpless droning only to bring back the wall of distortion and bass. The chorus filling synth that makes the vocal line like a sea of lemmings jumping off a cliff in tandem while someone on the other side watches in majestic wonder at the beauty.
The Frail (Alternate version)
The piano has a slight tape stretching wobble effect on it. No background instrumentation fading in.
The Wretched (Instrumental)
Guitar intro, then powerful haunting, I can actually hear changes in the piano riff without the vocals crowding it. I hear a hollow wind blowing sound throughout the verse I never heard before. The guitar actually sounds crisp and clear pre-chorus. Without the overdriven vocals, it actually sounds totally different and worthy of listening to it on it own. This was a fantastic song to appreciate without vocals. Additional darker bass synths in verse 2. The high pitched synths notes dropping sound more delicate. I can hear the second guitar leads more clearly. The bridge sounds amazing and comes together like a piece of abstract art. The way was guitar solo sounds as close to organized chaos as you can get. The culmination in the last part of the song sounds incredible. The outdo emphasizes the bass synth and the amount of pumping your speakers actually endure. It fades out to the quiet riff and cuts off in an unfinished format. Love it.
Has an urban industrial feel with a few noise samples. Cutout sections focusing on on bent notes and tons of static emphasis. What is interesting is I would actually like to hear Trents lyrics to this one. It almost sounds like it should have been from year zero.. You can see this was supposed to be the original intro to Were in this together because it cuts to it without warning.
Were in this together (Instrumental)
Sounds fantastic and mostly the same, but you get to focus on the little samples that go off in the background like supporting cast characters. They are there but often overshadowed. The chorus actually sounds less distorted and clearer without the loud distorted vocals. You can see how beautiful this song is. You can actually hear the synth singing the further I fall line that is overshadowed by the vocals and just that little bit sounds amazing. Its like a totally new view of this song. The production on this song is truly incredible and I can see now how it was easily picked as one of the singles. The sounds during the bridge I have never heard before and I even hear what sounds like famous korg er1 bass drum drops before the guitar solo. After the guitar solo, the last chorus almost sounds different then the others and you can see how the focused vocals bring that together. All part of fantastic production. The piano ending is the same.
The Fragile (Instrumental)
You can actually focus on the buzz that is actually a melody and not just random buzzing. The drums sound extra crisp now that the frequency is wide open. The second verse brings to like lots of tiny instruments that actually seem “Fragile”, just before opening up to the distorted chorus. The drums and tambourine are mixed so well that they sound right next to me. The bridge shows a culmination of the small instruments that makes you feel like you have a hazy head of confusion after seeing what Trent is describing, just before it breaks out into the guitar solo. At this point I love this song so much that I want to destroy. Is this what is intendend and portrayed? Whatever it is it is magic. I will say that the addition of this song does complement it, but once again having an instrumental version adds more to how special this record is to me.
Just like you imagined (alternate version)
One of the more progressive instrumentals on the original recording. The drums sound incredible and everything does sound more prominent. This always was and always will be a fantastic instrumental. It has everything you could ask for in a tasteful instrumental that also highlights the amazing amount of skill that is used to make everyone of the instruments talk and gently scream. Its like he decided to pick up every instrument in the studio and just have a few beautiful licks culminate into a beautiful arrangement of chaos. The outro of piano and bass ending is just as amazing.
The March (Instrumental)
This has dark soundtrack score written all over it. It is like a horror movie being played using just a few power chords at first, but then evolves into this flanging dreamy soundscape as if you were journeying deep into a tunnel in your mind, then the power chord chorus of horror takes over again. The mixture of acoustic guitar and bass with additional items add the shock and slap of attention before you are sent back into the dreamy flange soundscape. I don’t think this song actually needs lyrics to it. It holds the horror on its own that vocal would probably just detract from, but I can see how it didn’t fit with the entire feel of the original release.
Even Deeper (Instrumental)
The drum and sample team that actually goes together is prominent and this is a great example of how a few different melodies and instruments are molded by an artist to become something amazing. The classic stop before the chorus is a great modern touch and the guitar is actually discernible. The second verse actually feels incredible with the different high pitched synths playing off of each other with the tastefull snare rolls fading into the mix. This is another example of absolutely fantastic production work. Everything is balanced perfectly. Listening now it would actually probably be an incredibly hard feat to make all the vocals sit nicely into the mix. This is a fantastic instrumental track that demonstrates beautiful and tasteful use of all these instruments. It would almost seem hard to keep ones attention at this bpm and while holding the same basic pattern, but given that every other measure showcases and instrument in a fantastic manner it actually makes you wait in anticipation. The very end has a great bass synth note that just shows deviant invention while the sampled orchestra plays melodic licks.
Pilgrimage (alternate version)
Opens with that heavy overdriven animal of a guitar lick and heavily sampled distorted drums. Then the buried synth that almost makes you think of some crazy death parade. The middle section has actually never sounded so alive like it was instant panic as if someone was stuck in the middle of this parade and needed to get out. This alternate shows a slight fade in the middle fading into flange and faded violins. Interesting to see a different take on this track. The bass actually almost becomes overwhelming and then just stops.
One way to get there
This fades in and sounds like the intro to starfuckers but then comes to life as its own twisted industrial dance number almost like something left over from broken. The main riff almost sounds to happy and mainstream. Once you start to get comfortable with that the meat beat manifesto industrial sound takes over and then the mainstream chorus hook gets laid over it as it fades out to speaker crushing digital drums. While this is an interesting number I can see how this didn’t originally fit in with the groove and feel of the album.
No, you don’t (Instrumental)
It is interesting to actually see how carved the guitars are in this album. I think this has to be one of the best produced albums I have ever heard. The amount of years it took to make this album really show how every track has an attention to detail. The syncopated samples that vary between the verses are perfectly placed. It seems like the more you listen to tracks like this and see how every instrument is perfectly played, placed and mixed showcase what a true artist Trent is. While most of his works are incredible, I consider this one of the most intimate and amazing. Each part comes to life and then evolves into this wall of destruction
A voice sample that is laid over a drum machine. Actually sounds futuristic of the ghosts release and even the slip. A treat of ambient static, random snares, bass synths here and there that just sounds like far and away digital confusion. Almost as if it was a digital hostage ransom note was sent through a modem and decoded into sound.It then evolves into a drum spectacle laid over a sampled note held and distorted to perfection that just to fades into obscurity and then the tension driven repetition of samples. While these other songs may be outtakes, I am glad they were released this way. A separate disc of outtakes probably would not have stood on its own. Releasing them in this time capsule with other alternate material was a great move.
La mer (alternate version)
The bass seems to be in the front and center of the piano sample playing over and over. The toy piano playing the lead sounds perfectly placed. The drums seem to break out of nowhere and sound so alive like they are right in front of you taking over the left and right channels. The bass line that takes over is not as prominent and the lead piano seems to deviate more from what it originally was. This version seems to be a picture of what the song was before it found itself. All of the pieces are there and just need someone to fit them together. It is almost frustrating to see what condition and arrangement they are in and what they ended up to be. I can see how all of these pieces are just slightly out of arrangement. While they still seem beautiful, they just needed proper placement and that is exactly what happened. What is amazing though is how it was all just there and just moved slightly into perfection.
The great below (instrumental)
I don’t think I ever heard these samples so close that I actually hear them wobble and shift. I can hear a sample of what sounds like trents breath backwards in the mix and a deep bass note that is ominous, just before the sampled orchestra comes back in. The panning between the left and right is very tasteful and not overwhelming. It truly becomes magical in the chorus as each of the violins play the leads bouncing between the left and right tracks. I never heard the chorus line towards the end of the chorus and it sounds beautiful. The release after the chorus sounds amazing and there are samples that are playing in the background that actually fill my entire sound room. I have no idea how the hell it was done, but it sounded amazing. The live drums flowing back and forth sound wild and this part where all of the panning becomes a little overwhelming and adds a sea-sick feeling, which I believe was the intention. Luckily it stops just in time before you need a dramamine. Amazing version of this track
Not what it seems like (instrumental)
While distorted this track almost has the chord progression and feel of a mainstream radio song. I have a feeling with right vocal line, this could have easily been played on mainstream radio if there is a hook that comes out of it. It just seems to be the same riff repeated with a little bit of bass added for enhancement then the inclusion of some drums. It almost seems like this is an unfinished work without a vocal line holding it together, but the way it actually comes together it sounds like a great song that just fell short of this chaotic release
Bass line lead with some kind of effect on the tail end with some loud reverb drums that actually sound like they are hitting a trash can to keep the rythm. This actually seems like it would be a test track for some idea or testing out some new equipment. It seems like since the track is lacking body it isn’t really going anywhere but the baseline does take a different path and becomes more interesting. This almost seems like it was more fitting on the ghosts release as well
The new flesh (instrumental)
With the bass line fading in and the other backwards instruments fading into the channel and out, it can quickly make your head spin and give you a woozy feeling. Great demonstration of conveying emotion into sound. I think this would be the sound of some manner of drug induced haze and what it would look like to try to fight your way out of your own head. The distorted guitar, drums and bass that fade in from the right seem like someone who is still in that chemical haze and just wandering into another studio room. Or maybe Trent was simply fading from dream to dream and left the record button roll only to fade out and fade away. This track seems to be one of the most haunting to me. As if I was stuck in his head while a substance ripped apart his brain at nothing studios. Looking through his eyes and creating the horror of the chemical haze, communicating the emptiness that is felt in substance and personal abuse through the beauty of music. It is absolutely scary at how he pulled this off. Incredibly, horribly, beautiful.
The way out is through (alternate version)
Intro is quiet and reminiscent of led zeppelin mellotron/no quarter type stuff with distorted synth trying to cut through. Then the song starts to awaken like a distorted industrial menace as the high cut starts to come off and the droning distortion starts to take shape into the full song being played by what seems to be a full band. Missing vocals it almost fuses into a slight jazz piano piece before it fades away into twilight.
Into the void (instrumental)
The intro cello sounds more pronounced as the the rest of the instruments tickle their way through. The drums are compressed and feel like punches in the chest when they come in. The baseline synth has a huge stereo spread and its hard not to fall in love with the background sounds just creating rhythmic layers. The Trent harmonies are still laid in there and its an example of harmonies that are often missed. the distorted and down sliding guitar comes in and holds the repeating melody. The guitar slightly evolves as more instrumentation makes its way into the mix. The bridge sounds incredible in that I don’t think I have ever paid attention to the subtle synth pads paving their way to the solo section that seems slightly subdued until it all culminates and begins to echo
Where is everybody (instrumental)
This distorted and salty electronic baseline has so much attitude. The background bass pad is spread so far across the listening field it feels like fog at your feet while the you anticipate the heaviness take over. The drum groove is fantastic and it makes you think about all of the incredible set ups for guitars that must have been present. It sounds like 3 guitars just slightly different in effects. This song feels very busy and rhythmic even without vocals. The bridge part synths that accompany the harmonies have never been heard before. Another guitar solo that has just slightly different tonal characteristics. I would have probably gone mad listening to Trent critique the exact amount of distortion that should be on that guitar.
The mark has been made (alternative version)
The rhythmic spread of the beat sounds wide and daunting. The creepy pad synths add a lust of beauty and curiosity. The cello and strings that start to enter almost seem like they are ghosts welcoming you into the other side as you walk over from life. The second have of the song takes on a lighter tone instead of the studio version that jumps into live drums. This version seems to add more tension as the guitar bending notes begin to drill at you until you start to feel anxiety. Then the outro begins and highlights another dark synth and is complemented by a talk box guitar that just sounds like a filter opening into a scream. The lovely thing about it thought is that it stays contained. Its almost like this song is purposely held back from becoming chaotic which is a talent in itself.
Was it worth it? (Instrumental)
Chaotic drums open the track with a receptive pattern. Shuttering guitar comes in and begins to play distorted leads. Then a retro synth that almost sounds like something from a synth wave track comes in. The track continues but still seems to seem like it is more of a demo track or an idea palette. It then shifts and actually begins to come together with the synth wave lead. You can actually hear a good hook beginning to take shape and the track then repeats its pattern. As it begins its pattern again you can almost hear a vocal lead coming together and begin to wonder if this track actually has some vocals made for it. The bridge portion of the track is met with some fantastic rapid drum samples over massive distortion only to stop for a measure or two and let you hang before bringing you back to the chorus portion. The song has taken shape and you can now hear its form.
The songs prominent bass hold the attitude of the song very clearly until you know where the vocals are meant to be. By the time we get to the pre chorus and chorus we see how much the vocal actually hold this song together. It is nice to see the instrumentation in the spotlight on this track because as the vocals are very harsh and add so much, the song is actually rather subdued in the chorus. I am actually amazed at how I never noticed it before. There is a nice spotlight on all the backtracking just before the abrubt end.
This drum beat seems to lay a scape of controlled confusion. And then out of now where a distorted guitar shreds the hair off of your head along with the classic bass synth. You get to recover for a few measures and then it all starts to creep back. Little breaks in measures for beeps and notes to show off before the monster guitar and dark bass returns. This is a fantastic track for this release. It ends with different end measure breaks showing off stutters, note holds and drum breaks until it fades out in distorted pieces
Can I stay here (instrumental)
A rythmn track of bass and drums with an over distorted note that begins to beckon with some dark guitar then goes back to the main riff, until the second verse when you realize this is the perfect David Lynch soundtrack song. Not sure if this is a leftover from Lost Highway, but it fits exactly with a David Lynch feel before the steady programmed bass comes in and culminates the song into a breathing piece. Just as the piece starts breathing, it repeats, fades into obscurity and slinks out the doorway.
10 miles high (instrumental)
Gritty sand filled distorted guitar and enough reverb on a drum kit to visualize a practice space that is having the groove kicked out of it by reznor trying out some new guitar sounds. The drums continue steady and the guitar leads have a nice salty attitude to them. While repetitive you can see there was a groove that was formed and it was time to try to expand the groove with other riffs and slight add ins of instrumentation. The groove stops quickly and only dissonant static and a few keyboard keys keep the rhythm of the song. The guitar riff fades back in and then everyone gets back on the same train again for the encore. It slowly falls into the realization that the groove is over, the feeling is lost and it is instantly cast aside as you hear the drumsticks drop.
Etching samples with a fade in that makes you think you are waking up from some kind of heavy induced sleep. Fades into a small rythmn and repetitive samples. Then the stereo field fills and you feel like attack is eminent and something will start, but it just fades away into obscurity
Starfuckers inc. (instrumental)
You get to see all the samples and behind the vocals. Some parts seem to cut away and the vocals are welcomed actually. The tool that moves this song is trents voice. Without vocals the chorus sounds like chaotic driven guitars screaming off the rails before a screaming sample shrieks at maximum destruction. The chorus again comes back like a vengeance seeking destruction. It has the crushing power of a train derailment at maximum speed. The bridge seems to feel like a gentile break or a breather until another crushing chorus comes seeking vengence. The ending sounds like the end of a power ballad from hell and is accompanied by the bonus “Goodnight” as a bit of comic relief
Complication (Alternate Version)
This one is like the dance track from hell. I always loved this track and thought it had great movement. It still has that signature high pass filtered guitar strum buried in it. This alternate version seems to have a different mix to it, but seems to be true to the final cut version. The ending seems to be a bit different and have some mean bass fades coming in over top of some distorted filtered guitar riff on repeat
Claustrophobia machine (raw)
A repetitive drum sample with some misc live drum hits, a few bass notes and distorted samples before opening into a basic live drum beat. This is definitely a demo that is seeking its next direction. You can see all the drums trying to figure out all the different patterns needed and trying to audition all the different sounds they were paging through like a bunch of presets and samples.
Last heard from
Heavily distorted synth playing a dragging rhythm that almost seems reminiscent of the closer remix era tracks but with a bit more paranoia. The sound field opens up to a series of panic samples making you feel the anxiety before cutting back to the undertow samples that fade away.
I’m Looking forward to joining you, finally (instrumental)
Tension samples fill the air prior to this laid back almost jazz feeling influenced track taking control. The chorus pads seem more present without the vocals. There are subtle oohs and ahhh as backing tracks. This song seems to have little movement as the vocals tell most of the story, until the bridge. Then the live drums w/ a side of extra reverb and rapid tambourine take over bringing more life to the track.
The big comedown (Instrumental)
I always loved the intro to this song, great use of samples and crazy guitar effects simulating all sorts of guitar types. The industrial drums and samples lay a great bed and foundation. The missing vocals do seem to carry the song well until the chorus takes over then the simple synth lead and bass synth programming give it a great feel. The second verse gives way to additional tones laying more of the foundation to a heavier chorus beginning to take over. The bridge seems to give a brief pause and a moment of suspense before bringing in the overly distorted guitars and buried crowd applause samples that I never heard before. The addition of those almost seems to give it an anthem type feel.
Underneath it all (instrumental)
The introduction just leads to a beat and sample fest that induces panic. Almost like a jackhammer hitting your brain waiting for it to crack while the guitar seems to play on like a devil jumping on your bones and soul in excitement awaiting your breaking. The chorus seems to give you a break until another verse mounts even more pressure until the overly distorted guitar plays the same riff over and over until you crack. Then the famous all I do I can still feel you line fades out and stutters like your digital life feed fading away as your mind leaves your body
Ripe with decay (instrumental)
Slightly different version that seems to have the drums already in motion at the begininng of the song so it almost feels a bit premature and doesn’t seem to set the stage properly for the song. As more elements come to life you see the song come to shape as you are used to seeing it but still is different, before fading out on the bass riff we have come to love. With some far off piano chords in the distance and a sample that almost reflects a heartbeat monitor that fades away into a quiet night scene of crickets singing away while a bass guitar plays its last notes before slowly getting lost in the industrial chaos looming in the distance and fading in. All cuts out except one strumming guitar and one overly distorted high string lead that cuts out just as if someone cut the film strip to the picture you are watching.