- by James Gerard Release Date: Label:
History is filled with countless examples of unsung bands whose efforts proved crucial to a movement or scene that would ultimately (and unfortunately) pass them by. While the 90’s saw an alt-rock revival teeming with countless sound-alikes and come-latelys, the band Failure was perhaps a decade early, for while their initial run saw them only briefly flirt with the kind of monumental success many of their peers would enjoy, it left an indelible mark on the music that would follow in their wake.
Perhaps the very definition of a cult classic, Failure’s third release Fantastic Planet was initially embraced by only a limited audience but has garnered countless glowing reviews, testimonials and citations as to the weight of its influence by artists and the like in the twenty years since its release. Fantastic Planet represents the last artistic gasp of the L.A. band as fractured relations and drug abuse had created an irreparable divide between the group’s creative force Greg Edwards and Ken Andrews. And while both artists would spend the next decade exploring their own musical paths (Edwards with Autolux and Andrews via a slew of projects and solo releases), it is a fitting testament to Fantastic Planet that it remains the album from which the rest of their post-Failure work is measured.
While the lo-fi, Steve Albini-produced Comfort and its full-on grunge follow-up Magnified had earned Failure their indie credibility, Andrews and Edwards vision for the band was fully realized on Fantastic Planet, an album that garnered Failure their ‘space-rock’ tag and set into motion a template for countless imitations to come.
While expansive in scope (seventeen tracks clocking in at just under seventy minutes), Fantastic Planet is an impressively focused affair, with each track fitting perfectly into an overarching story of addiction-fueled dissociation. The album even loosely ties in (and cleverly interweaves some gentle nods) to the 1973 Animated French Film by the same name.
Fantastic Planet opens with the notably sparse “Saturday Saviour” (which is the ‘could've been/would've been’ anthem for a lost generation of Alt-rock fans unrepresented by Rap-metal and Frat-rock) flowing perfectly into the driving “Sergeant Politeness” before finally giving way to the first of three instrumental “Segues”, an opening salvo that only begins to hint of what is to come.
The ‘go-go-tom’ oomph of tracks like “Pillowhead” and “Pitiful” is perfectly balanced with the calm, ‘spaced-out’ vibe of songs like “Blank” and the fan-favorite “The Nurse Who Loved Me” (A Perfect Circle fans should definitely track this down as the original far exceeds the cover in my opinion). The lyrical themes ebb and flow from poetically esoteric (”Another Space Song”) to double-entendre-laden (“Dirty Blue Balloons”). Even the album’s lone single “Stuck On You” is a brilliantly heavy-handed exercise in wordplay. The understated grandeur of the closing track “Daylight” provides not only a sense of closure for the record but with the benefit of hindsight could also be viewed as an epilogue for the band and their inter-personal relationships as a well.
Musically the band (Scott Kelly on drums, Edwards and Andrews handling everything else) sounds incredibly locked in, especially considering the uncertainty that permeated the sessions. While Fantastic Planet is an album from the 90’s, it's not necessarily tethered to that decade in the way so many other records are. The album is benefitted sonically by its production/mix which, while at the time of its release was notably out of step with what had become that “90’s Atl-Rock” sound, is now a key ingredient to the album's timeless accessibility.
Failure’s Fantastic Planet is a lost gem best measured by the sheer scope of its continued influence on the music of today. If you are already familiar, then this review has essentially been a sermon to the choir, but if not, I can not think of an album I would recommend more to an alt/indie rock fan.