Trent Reznor and his band, Nine Inch Nails, are an easy target of condemnation, if not demonization. The heir of Kurt Cobain's alternative rock legacy, Nine Inch Nails attracts fans from the most alienated corners of youth culture-Goths, punks, heavy-metalheads, and hardcore rockers. Trent Reznor, now 34, is a pop-culture icon. He has produced 10 records, won two Grammys, founded Nothing Records, produced Marilyn Manson, and written soundtracks for Peter Lynch's Lost Highway and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. In 1997, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential Americans. The Fragile (Nothing/Interscope Records), Mr. Reznor's first album in five years, is largely his autobiographical account of emotional, mental, and spiritual collapse while touring. "It [was like] New Year's Eve every single day. I had everything I wanted, and I wasn't feeling good about it." Mr. Reznor knows that therapists gave him Band-Aids for his gaping wound. "[They] said, 'You're not up and down, you're just a quart low,'" he told Time. His metaphysical angst was diagnosed as psychological depression. Prozac became the antidote to nihilism, what he describes in a song as "the blurred serenity," the way to forget the pain. But Mr. Reznor does not have answers-and The Fragile comes full circle to a "naked, ugly end," as does Mr. Reznor's previous music. The album begins "Somewhat Damaged" and ends "Ripe (With Decay)." Anti-depression drugs notwithstanding, the fundamental despair remains unabated.
-David John Seel Jr. is a writer living in North Carolina.