Released July 20, 1999
15 min, 47 sec
Five long, long years after the release of The Downward Spiral, and two years after the last official release by Nine Inch Nails (that being Closure), the band dropped their lead single from upcoming and highly anticipated album The Fragile. Titled “The Day the World Went Away,” the song is simple. Driven by overpowering, aggressive, droning guitars, the song parts its clouds for just eight lines of lyrics from Trent Reznor, eulogizing his grandmother in a metaphorical manner. Then, the clouds come back in, the guitars return in full force, and the songs plays itself out much as it came in, with the addition of an extra guitar line and a chorus of “na na na” from Reznor, before abruptly cutting out.
“The Day the World Went Away” set an entirely different precedent for The Fragile. The Downward Spiral‘s lead single was “March of the Pigs,” a short and brutal rock track that set Reznor’s fans up to expect a violent, vicious monster of an album. By contrast, “The Day the World Went Away” is mournful and subdued in its content and meaning. The song reflects the immense amount of nuance in The Fragile, an incredibly complex album, both musically and lyrically, reflecting the poor state of mind Reznor found himself in following the Self-Destruct tours.
The Day the World Went Away complements its title track with two additional cuts: one as an additional teaser for The Fragile, and a remix that strips away even more from the track it remixes. “Starfuckers, Inc.” is a thinly-veiled lambast of Hollywood stardom and the two-faced music industry, perceived as taking direct shots at Reznor’s former protege Marilyn Manson at the same time. Reznor employs a strange editing method on his vocals, splicing each verse together using different vocal takes, giving the feeling that the song was stitched together. Interestingly, the version on The Day the World Went Away features a full ending for the song, taken from a KISS track from the live album KISS Alive!, while on The Fragile, the song ends with the explosion of fireworks and cuts straight to “Complication.”
The most interesting track, in the wake of The Fragile, is the Quiet version of “The Day the World Went Away.” As the title implies, all of the edge is removed from the track – instead of pounding guitars, the song opens with Reznor’s “na na na” chants, fading away into quiet synths and gentle plucking, finally crescendoing into a piano line and Reznor’s eight lines. Instead of exploding into guitars again, the song picks up a quiet percussion line and replicates the original’s melody for a few minutes, eventually fading away into nothingness.
The Quiet version of the song had a lasting legacy; the remix’s second half formed the basis for the second half of the live rendition of “The Day the World Went Away,” a version of the Quiet remix was performed at the CRC Sessions, and another rendition of the song was included on Still in a further remixed form.
The Day the World Went Away served as a primer for The Fragile, featuring two ends of the album’s musical spectrum in “The Day the World Went Away” and “Starfuckers, Inc..” The Fragile went on to be a critically divisive but beloved album, with a powerful legacy that stood for years as Trent Reznor tried to regroup himself for eventual follow-up With Teeth.