A Curious Case of Failure

Fantastic Planet (album)

Fantastic Planet (Wikipedia)

The mid-1990s had little to offer in the way of quality, lasting rock music. Just a few short years after grunge had exploded the entire genre, the 90s offered up a long, dead period of time during which everyone sorted through debris while trying to figure out what to do next. This was because, by that point, just about everything had been done, which in turn spoke to why grunge was so successful in the first place.

A reaction to a genre that had already explored every extreme — of speed, of precision, of filth, of complexity, of pretentiousness, of you name it — grunge went raw and sloppy again. Not a new idea, of course. Punk had already done that. But grunge took what punk did and added the genius element of making it actually listenable. Thanks to that, grunge also got popular. And before too long, bands like Seven Mary Three turned grunge into a formula. This was grunge’s kryptonite, killing it before it could evolve, and thus bringing about the vapidity of the mid-1990s.

One victim of this dead-time period was an aptly named band from L.A. called Failure, which put out three studio albums between 1990-1997 before throwing in the towel.

1992’s Comfort is a good, catchy album that I like quite a bit, but is not what this article is about.

1994’s Magnified is, with the exception of the opening riff of the first track, entirely forgettable (much like the rest of mid-90s rock).

That brings us to the curious case of Failure’s 1996 opus Fantastic Planet.

Unless you are reading this because you typed a very specific set of keywords into your Interwebs, you, like most people, have never heard of Failure, so perhaps a description of their sound is in order. I will try to offer one up, but I’m not good at this. Here’s how I’ve tried to describe Fantastic Planet in the past: 

  • Bush meets the Flaming Lips (might be least accurate).
  • Weezer, but dark, humorless, and in space (better).
  • Grunge goes to space (pretty close, maybe).
  • Hum, but good. And in space (closest?).

One of the challenges of nailing down this album is that it isn’t always sure what kind of album it wants to be (again, it’s a product of the 90s). The middle group of songs is a bit on the dull side compared to the first group, which is pretty good, and the last, which is exceptional. Here is what others who are better at writing about music have said.

Looking back at… Failure’s Fantastic Planet.

Sputnikmusic review: Failure’s Fantastic Planet.

Underrated Albums: Failure – Fantastic Planet.

Jason Ferguson: The Archives review.

I was given this CD by a girl I was spending time with back in the day (as we used to say back in the day). I didn’t ask for it, she didn’t ask if I wanted it. She just brought it over because she wanted me to listen to track 6, “Blank.”

“Just one track,” she said.

loved it. We let the thing play out. At the end, she said keep it. And not because she didn’t want it. She wanted to share it. Like a good book. That was almost fifteen years ago.

I still listen to the thing a couple of times a year, even now. And over the last week or so, I can’t stop listening to it. I don’t know why. Hence, what you are reading. 

I think the highlight of this album, the part that sends it over the top and makes it stand out as something that rose above much of the dreck of the time, would be the final third, comprising tracks 13-17:

  • “The Nurse Who Loved Me”
  • “Another Space Song”
  • “Stuck on You”
  • “Heliotropic”
  • “Daylight”

It’s too bad Failure failed, because they were taking grunge somewhere interesting on this, their last album of those 90s. Not sure why this was their last, some say infighting. Not sure why the album wasn’t more successful, some say label problems. But I’m sure I like it. Especially that last third. Damn.

By the way, I gave that girl a good book in return, and not because I didn’t want it. And which she kept.

I wonder what she’s doing right now.

What are you doing right now?

Are you listening to the sound of Failure?

Do you like it?

28 thoughts on “A Curious Case of Failure

  1. Pingback: Favorite Albums of 1996 | waltbox

  2. I don’t like it – I love it. And I don’t agree on the Magnified part. Songs as Frogs, Wonderful Life, the title song or Small Crimes are outstanding and already on this album Failure experiment with segues / spacy instrumentals which makes them a lot different than most of the ‘forgetable mid-90s rock’.

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    • Glad to hear your thoughts, Natalie. I’m still listening to Fantastic Planet in the car even now, however many days it’s been since this post (which is ridiculous) but here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna switch it out for Magnified, which I haven’t heard in years and give it another go.

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      • So I listened to Magnified for a couple of days in the car on the way to and from work. There are some interesting riffs and guitar work, and the recording itself is a slightly better production value, but there really aren’t any songs that have much staying power, in my opinion. I still think the opening riff is the best part of the album. I’m glad that it has some fans, but FP superior, and the way to go for anyone checking out Failure for the first time.

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      • I agree with you on the FP part, that album is their best imo too. But I love the sound and emotion on Magnified, it’s much better than the average grunge rock record from that time. And they already experimenting with segues. But FP is a real stand out, I agree. Happy holidays btw 😉 I’m hoping Santa will bring me a copy of FP on vinyl hahahah.

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  3. Pingback: Punk Ass! | Sunset Daily

  4. I posted this in early December. It’s now early January, and I’m still thinking about and listening to Failure, which is borderline pyschotic. Anywho, I’ve discovered the album Comfort, which I so casually dismissed in this post. Shame on me for that. Good album. Better than Magnified, but doesn’t quite reach the highs of Fantastic Planet. Comfort is more “This is Failure,” and less “This is how Failure thinks you might want your mid-90s rock band to sound,” than Magnified, if that makes sense. I don’t know why I’m so focused on how good Magnified isn’t when I should be focused on how good Comfort and FP are. I guess that’s why even my wife says I’m an asshole, sometimes. Highlights of Comfort include “Macaque” and “Screen Man.” Some quick and easy reviews are at http://www.amazon.com/Comfort-Failure/dp/B00004YLBE. If you buy, though, buy from someone who’s not Amazon.

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    • Comfort contains actually good songs, like you said, but the sound and production quality lacks for me. It’s the only record I can still buy here in my country, The Netherlands. Magnified I bought second hand on a Dutch ‘eBay-ish website’ and FP is out of stock everywhere. I need a physical copy of it, whether it’s on CD or LP, but it’s so expensive on Amazon! I think I understand what you’re saying about Magnified, but to me it’s still a very good record. But if you’re an asshole because of that, I doubt it, ha. Why shouldn’t I buy it from someone who’s not Amazon?

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      • Yes, all three are now hard to find here in the U.S. as well, I’m lucky to have M & FP. Comfort I do not have – I’ve been listening to it on YouTube. As for Amazon, I have nothing against them as a company, they are very good at what they do, but I work for a retailer who competes with them. These days, really, almost every retailer competes with them because they are so huge, so the more people who buy from sources other than Amazon, in my opinion, the better. I visited Amsterdam when I backpacked through Europe a long time ago and enjoyed it quite a bit. Never in my life had I seen so many bicycles.

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  5. I’ve never heard of them but I’m listening to them on Spotify now as I type. It sounds good. I’m not sure that they’re a failure though if they managed to produce an album that affected people so much that they’re still listening to it twenty years later. There are so many great bands out there and it’s scary to think how many of them never manage to make the breakthrough to the big time. As Jimmy the Lips says in The Commitments, “this way it’s poetry…”

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    • I think most people who are aware of them think they were successful artistically. FP was featured on many critics best-of lists – for the year, for the decade, for the genre, etc. If there was a failure, it was really only in the commercial sense, which unfortunately is the way many people judge success.

      And yes, you are right about the number of great artists who remain largely unknown. I heard that the percentage of artists on Spotify whose work goes unnoticed is staggeringly large. It’s a shame.

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  6. Well, I listened, but I guess the poetry was missing for me somewhere. ‘The Nurse’ seemed to have something, but having just come out of an orgy of Elton John and Marmalade (surf and turf?) the contrast was just too great. Good to have these memory anchors, though; they keep things level, don’t they?

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    • Oh no, Elton John and Failure don’t mix. Music for different days/moods. Nurse is one of my favorites. As I said in the post, I particularly enjoy that third group of songs.

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  7. Interesting. I didn’t listen, but I may. No time at the moment. Grunge has not been my favorite genre, but I’m open to trying this band out.

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      • I really do like almost all kinds of music — though I find I do not *listen* to all types. From opera and classical to reggae, rap, and some country, there’s something I like.
        Recently, when my friends found out I liked “Coming Home” by Diddy, they were quite dismayed and seemed to not understand me.

        And, of course, I’m partial to all things late 60’s to early 80’s! I suppose that gives me away. .. What can I say? I’m old!

        Off to listen to Failure now! (Btw, I don’t know why, when reading about this, the band R.E.M. popped into my mind?)

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      • And, they (Failure) weren’t bad! 🙂 Kind of liked what I heard, though probably wouldn’t buy it.

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      • Glad you liked it. I’m old too. And even my old friends make fun of me for liking The Carpenters and Neil Diamond. 😉

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      • Dadgummit WordPress, this is me logged in and writing on my own site! Why are you saying I’m anonymous?!

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      • Btw, must be the incipient Alzheimer’s — I left off that I did enjoy Fantastic Planet. It was great combo of style/music.

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  8. Didn’t listen to Failure (incredible name), as I’m not a huge fan of grunge besides the obvious forays into Nirvana and the like, but I am interested in the kinds of standout artistic movements like grunge. I was born the same year that Nevermind came out, so I don’t have any sense of the context in which grunge came on the scene. What made it so special, besides the antiestablishment content that it seems to have developed from the punk scene? And what do you think contributed to a downfall that happened just as quickly as its onset? Did Cobain’s death destroy everyone’s faith in the future of the genre?

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    • I don’t know why WordPress is not coopertaing with me tonight. I got the name changed from “Anonymous” to my own, but I can’t change the avi. Oh well.

      Grunge was a reaction to the hair metal of the 1980s. In the 80s, bands like Quiet Riot, Ratt, and Motley Crue took over the heavy metal of their predecessors – bands such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest – and stripped away the darkness and a bit of the heaviness. They made it lighter and added a touch of humor, especially in their music videos, and this made it more accessible. In addition, they discovered the “power ballad,” which was basically a way of turning a heavy metal song into a pop song. Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue is the perfect example. Then bands like Bon Jovi, Winger, Warrant, and Skid Row turned the success of THEIR predecessors into a formula that quickly lost any element of newness or originality. They all looked the same, their songs sounded the same, and the genre lost it’s creativity. It became predictable, generic, and boring.

      That’s why it was such a big deal when Nirvana said fuck all this ridiculous bullshit. They eschewed hairspray and makeup and fancy leather clothes and tiger-striped tank tops for jeans and flannel shirts. Instead of writing songs about wanting to rock or wanting to party or wanting to tap hot teenage girls, they wrote about wanting to fit in, or not fitting in, or not wanting to fit in, or personal pain, or how life is not always a party. That was a real breath of fresh air for a few years. Until the cycle repeated itself. It didn’t have anything to do with the death of Cobain. It had much to do with copycat bands who were less talented duplicating what they thought was the formula for success. And the only thing worse than a bunch of bands pretending to be partying all day is a bunch of bands pretending to be morose all day. But it did work for them until everyone got bored with it.

      And that led to the doldrums of the mid-to-late nineties. You’d partied as hard as you could, then pouted in a corner as long as you could. And there was metal if you were angry. But what else could you do with rock?

      Well, there was this, if you’re interested: http://wp.me/p130NL-sh

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  9. I’m a child of the 90’s. I was in uni when Nirvana hit… it was bliss. I remember jumping on tables and singing at the top of my lungs and everyone asking me what I was singing because there was no way I could know the words. But I have not heard Failure or heard of Failure, and I will definitely get on that. Music hasn’t been the same since, although I think it’s become more diverse – nevertheless, I just want something that makes me jump on a table and sing it hard.

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    • I too was in college when Nirvana came around. It was a very cool time. It’s rare these days that I find anything worth jumping on a table and singing hard for. Not sure if that’s due to changing times or changing me, i.e, getting older. Probably a little of both. It’s occurred to me recently that rock music as a genre may go the way of the dodo, kind of like swing, or bebop, or dixieland jazz. Not that it would disappear entirely, just that it may survive as a novelty, or nostalgia. As people like us, who grew up with it age. And younger people replace it with stuff more relevant to them. Which they in turn will hang on to. And so on.

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      • I think rock is dead. There’s other good stuff out there, but I never know what to call it. I’ve been listening non-stop to Phosphoresence, also The War on Drugs. Don’t know what kind of music they make, but love them. I have to get into this Failure band though.

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