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.
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.
I 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”
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?