With their third unnerving collaboration with film director David Fincher, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have fashioned a dizzying and thoroughly hypnotic trip for Fincher’s version of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling suburban nightmare Gone Girl.
In a wonderful in-depth interview with the Wall Street Journal, Reznor claims that Fincher asked him to think of the “really terrible music you hear in massage parlors” as a starting point and then imagining that sound “unraveling.”
As much as the end result for Gone Girl echoes with the discomforting quiet moments from Reznor/Ross’ Oscar Award winning score for The Social Network, the score for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV album, I found myself repeatedly thinking of NIN’s ambitious and sadly slighted 1999 album, “The Fragile”.
Following the remarkable success of “The Downward Spiral” and that juggernaut of an album’s seemingly endless touring cycle and it’s pitch black full stop theme and tone, it seemed that there was simply no where else for Reznor to go.
He had for all intents and purposes fashioned a suicide.
Reznor became a Gone Boy.
For him to then attempt to follow that up with a double album of decidedly less industrial music, with nods to Erik Satie and the sounds of ukelele’s recorded in sinks, “The Fragile” was an affront to expectation and destined to be commercial hiccup (if not an all out failure) in it’s time.
I remember how in interviews and press photos, the tattered Trent Reznor of Mr. Self Destruct had briefly transformed into a vampiric dandy for the publicity for David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack, but that version gave way to the first “straight” iteration of Reznor. A scowling guy with short haircut and a leather jacket sitting in a parked muscle car. It was a strong look. The reviews were glowing whenever not completely cruel and insulting. There was no middle ground.
This was a stand. Suddenly, all the theatre of Nine Inch Nails up to that point was gone. The intense burning nihilism of youth giving way to an actual possibly even more terrifying reality of living life, of experiencing vulnerability, loss and true fear. The tragedy of rejection so real.
The album’s gorgeous packaging a damaged palette of color and out of focus digital photos of tulips, hinted at the sadness of white picket fences.
In an interview in 1999, Reznor described the tone of “The Fragile” as “systems failing and things sort of falling apart.”
For all it’s faults, the bloat, the sometimes wince-inducing lyrics, the album brilliantly explores quiet/loud dynamics, perpetual drones, pointillist piano work and shoegazing sonic squalls. The real highlights (and secret harbingers of things to come) are the instrumental interludes like “The Frail”, “The Mark is Made” and “La Mer“.
Fincher’s massage parlor/spa quip is a weird but interestingly poignant one, as Gone Girl’s score lulls you into a constant state of discomfort.
Never fatuous, it softly mirrors the frustrated, righteous anger that drives the unbelievably destructive mystery that lies at the center of film. The whole thing burns with bluish, white flame intensity at the center that tricks you into thinking the blue is cold, like The Fragile’s lacerating new wave gut-punch “Into the Void“.
The Fragile, like Gone Girl and it’s mesmerizingly dreadful score, is a calculated, confounding and totally rewarding exercise in the power of rage, trust, rejection, maturity and ultimately decay. Beautiful. Well worth coming back for.
(*image taken from a New York Times article 09/19/1999)