VINE VOICEon 27 March 2002
The new NIN live album was something I'd been long anticipating. The first disc itself is great, but the bonus disc 'Still' is disappointing and it didn't quite live up to what I was hoping for.
The first gripe I have is the track listing. The album is drawn from the Fragility tour 12/4/00-18/6/00 across America, and incorporates tracks recorded over several dates (it's not a single live show, and the DVD/VHS release includes a couple of extra tracks I believe). Material is drawn from all three albums (Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral and The Fragile) as well as the Broken EP.
Understandably no 'greatest hits' set will ever please everyone, but there are some particular shortcomings here. Firstly, a number of popular older numbers are left out - such as 'Something I Can Never Have', 'Down In It', 'Happiness In Slavery' and most noticeably 'Heresy' and 'Reptile'. Also NIN have been known to record quite a few covers (including Queen, Soft Cell, Gary Numan and Adam Ant) - I'd have quite liked to hear a live cover in the set. Of course, the set's still packed with hits, but I feel either some weaker numbers such as 'March of the Pigs', 'Piggy' and 'The Frail' should've been dropped, or the live show should've been stretched to 2CDs to include all the classics.
The selection of newer tracks also seemed dissatisfactory to me. Six of the 16 live tracks come from The Fragile. The choices seem mainly to have been for the more ambient numbers, such as 'The Frail', 'The Great Below' and 'The Mark Has Been Made'. Personally I think 'The Frail' at least should've been dropped - it's an instrumental that on the album works fine, but here just seem like a waste of time between 'Piggy' and 'The Wretched'. If NIN wanted to include the 'softer' numbers, I'd have picked 'I'm Looking Forward To Joining You, Finally' and 'The Fragile'. Even better, I'd have gone for more upbeat numbers such as 'Somewhat Damaged', 'Into The Void' and 'Where Is Everybody'. Apparently at the live shows the new numbers were performed with some quite stunning visual effects on large screens, but on CD that's just lost.
Most impressive of what's shown here are the more aggressive songs. 'Terrible Lie' is a superb opener, sounding fleshed out with plenty of 'oomph' despite being 13 years old. The guitar-driven thrash of 'Gave Up' and 'Wish' also sound particularly energetic and vital. That slower numbers like 'The Great Below' can be interspersed with these without sounding disjointed is remarkable, but they still seem to be missing something - one might as well play The Fragile with crowd noise.
The climax to the set comes in the last six songs. Starting with 'Suck' (the 'hidden' track 99 of Broken), followed by a slightly lack-lustre 'Closer' and, of course, 'Head Like A Hole'. That 'The Day The World Went Away' and 'Starf***ers Inc' come this high in the bill is surprising. They're good enough cuts from The Fragile and I'm sure they could have stood up with the big numbers, but here I don't think they do - mainly because they seem to have been softened up and mellowed out, rather than beefed up as they could have been.
Predictably enough, the set closes with 'Hurt', which marks a suitable come down. An impressive performance I'm sure, but as I've indicated above, perhaps it should've been more. The CD seemed to vary from a questionable choice of 'hits' with crowd noise, to classic songs made to sound more vital than ever. (While I think of it, it's worth mentioning too that although performed live, this album was 'tweaked' in the studio for better sound quality)
And as for 'Still' (the bonus disc). This features 'deconstructed' versions of 'Something I Can Never Have', 'The Fragile', 'The Becoming' and 'The Day The World Went Away' - stripped down to mainly vocals with what sounds like acoustic guitar and piano. An interesting concept, that could show off some quality song-writing and NIN's melodic pop edge (much like Nirvana's 'Unplugged in New York') but which doesn't pull it off with quite the success of that show - rather things just seem to sound somewhat lost and muted. The five new songs aren't much to get excited about either - four are instrumentals and 'And All That Could Have Been' is only of fairly standard quality.
Anything from NIN will be hugely anticipated. After the let down of 'Things Falling Apart' this was doubly true here. It's certainly not a complete flop - Kerrang! rated it 4Ks and Rock Sound gave it 4.5/5. I'm inclined to agree that this is certainly a good CD, and NIN completists will want it - if only because it has a Halo number (17). It's not, however, as great as it could (perhaps should) have been - at this price, I'd say for obsessives only.