NINE INCH NAILS, The Fragile (Interscope) Trent Reznor is a rich, successful, attractive, and talented man who lives in a mansion. If the nature of

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Nine Inch Nails, Death in Vegas, Sting, and Yellow Note vs. The Daleks

NINE INCH NAILS, The Fragile (Interscope) Trent Reznor is a rich, successful, attractive, and talented man who lives in a mansion. If the nature of such a situation seems gratifying, Reznor's searing new opus, The Fragile, offers an altogether different view. A towering, ghastly monster of a record, this double CD is a hate-filled creation. Half a song into it, he's already scowling, spitting out the lyric "broken bruised forgotten sore, too fucked up to care anymore" with what sounds like a scraggly, nightmarish witch on background vocals. The songs are so dense, they have their own gravitational fields, filtered through buckets of noise and arranged for optimal explosiveness. Terrifying silences and tuneless cacophonies, guitars awash in distortion, drum machines coarse and blunt—these aren't the telltale signs of pop music. Yet no matter how brutally Reznor tortures his melodies, his songs are still intensely listenable. Even the exceptionally bitter "Starfuckers, Inc," a speed-metal slam against Marilyn Manson's post-fame ego trips, unleashes a screamed chorus that attaches like a virus to the brain's pleasure centers. Still, Reznor's progress as a musician from his Pretty Hate Machine days is laid plain in the blistering instrumental tracks, where the industrial assault finds an indelicate heart. "Just Like You Imagined" crackles with momentum, as a pounding rhythm starts a head-splitting avalanche of melodic layering. Adrian Belew's slippery guitar figures explode during "Where Is Everybody," concluding the song with a slow, sweaty grind. Even the morose and uneasy title track suddenly blossoms into a spun out and languid guitar solo, heavy with melody. Reznor can live in his mansion, flogging his soul with vitriolic glee all he likes, but the nature of his would-be demons is beside the point. The audacious appeal of Nine Inch Nails isn't the pain itself, but the astounding sonic inventiveness in which Reznor and his cohorts

indulge us and themselves.—Matthew Cooke

DEATH IN VEGAS, The Contino Sessions (Time Bomb) Just when hopes were high that electronic music would conquer America, the electronic heavyweights started trading in mechanical beats for more soulful pop and guitar. Think Chemical Brothers' Surrender, think Underworld's Beaucoup Fish, think Death in Vegas' The Contino Sessions. Not that Death in Vegas is any stranger to the guitar pick: Dead Elvis, the 1997 debut, was a black wedding between technology and rock. Thanks to frontman Richard Fearless' genre mixing, Melody Maker remarked that he understood "it's as well to plunder the graves of your idols as to kill them." With Contino, the foot has been sewn to the leg, so that rock is now a walking corpse rather than a jar to sample from: Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie gives a nasal moan to a trip-hop beat in "Soul Auctioneer"; "Aisha" takes us on an eerie but exhilarating journey as Iggy Pop waxes morbid over soaring guitars and funky keyboards; and Jesus and Mary Chain's Jim Reid adds vox to "Broken Little Sister," a guitar-heavy tune without much movement. These cameos from singers on the same dark side of the tracks as Death in Vegas are intriguing and eclectic for experimentalism's sake, but I've got to admit I find myself missing Dead Elvis' ghost. He appears on the best tunes: "Dirge," an ominous combination of Dot Allison's melancholic vocals and drumbeats; and the spacey "Flying," which builds to a beautiful crescendo of keyboards, drums, and muffled vocals. Ironically, the spirit of the beats-oriented Death in Vegas too often gets suffocated by the bloated flesh of rock 'n' roll, and, instead of a complete being, Contino can resemble, for better or worse, Frankenstein's monster.—David Massengill

STING, Brand New Day (A&M). An ill-advised title for what is without doubt the stalest, most uninspired Sting recording ever. Usually you can hear the three years' labor in a new Sting disc: there's some kind of guiding musical idea and emotional drive behind it. But Brand New Day sounds like outtakes from his last several CDs (all of which I loved): The same elements are there, but they're strung together in a lot of unconvincing, second-rate efforts. The only "innovation" Sting has added this time out is some lame "Middle Eastern" colors on "Desert Rose" (which sounds like a cross between "Every Breath You Take" and "Why Should I Cry For You" from The Soul Cages) and some equally pointless French rapping on "Perfect Love . . . Gone Wrong." Otherwise we get stuff like "Big Lie Small World," which recalls—poorly—the melody, lyrics, and bossa arrangement of "It's Probably Me" (from Ten Summoner's Tales), and "Tomorrow We'll See," a truly embarrassing first-person song about a hooker ("Headlights in the rainy street/I check, make sure it's not the heat"—love that "street" talk, Sting!). Sting has always teetered on the edge of banality, and his powerful hooks have always (for me) stopped just shy of empty pop pandering. But on Brand New Day, he wakes up on the other side. If you're among the millions who love to hate Sting, this album will provide 48 minutes of pure pleasure.—Mark D. Fefer

YELLOW NOTE VS. THE DALEKS, Yellow Note vs. The Daleks (Jungle Sky) While the title suggests a DJ battle, the real competition on this album is between the different genres of electronica David Barratt explores. The multitalented Brit has done everything from dance remixes to Diet Coke commercials, and this album is a product of his diverse abilities. Yellow Note vs. The Daleks sounds like a skilled DJ testing the crowd, organically flowing between drum 'n' bass, jungle, trip-hop, and breakbeat. The album develops well, with blistering jungle beats on tracks like "Socialism NYC (remix)" and "Gia" keeping the tempo up while complementing the slower pieces. Fortunately, while Barratt works in a variety of styles, he doesn't dilute any of them and often has the most success inducing subtle transitions. The progression between the echoing, submerged drum 'n' bass of "4am Already" and the lazy trip-hop interlude "Joe Standing Naked on the Beach" is particularly slick. "Jumped" is another standout cut, with Barratt in a turntablist jam, flipping between a montage of dance floor-ready samples and funky breakbeats. The frequent use of horns and piano brings personality to Barratt's crisp, mechanized rhythms and fills out his tracks with analog warmth. The vinyl release of this album is being billed as entirely different from the CD and promises new tracks and remixes.—J.C. Coyle

 
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