Review Summary: One of the best and most overlooked albums of the 90s alternative boom.Magnified
never had a chance to succeed commercially. It was released at a time when so many previously-underground alternative bands were trying to capitalize on their new, major-label contracts that it became difficult to keep track on them all. It was released on the same day as Soundgarden’s Superunknown
and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral
, two of the biggest alternative albums of the decade. And a month after its release the body of Kurt Cobain was found and Nirvana instantly became legendary, which certainly didn’t help a band whose debut album was unfavorably compared to the grunge pioneers. Fifteen years later, everyone still knows Nirvana and Failure's popularity has grown only marginally at best. Nevertheless, popularity doesn’t determine quality and Failure’s middle album is certainly a fine example of this.
Failure’s debut, 1992’s Comfort
, was met with largely average reviews, which was fair as it is a largely average album. It has its moments, but not enough of them and as a result the buzz for their follow-up, Magnified
, was extant but not considerable. The fact that they were endlessly compared to Nirvana caused many to write them off as unoriginal, but while the similarities are there, mainly in their punk influences, the more fair comparison would be Hum. Failure had a not-so-subtle love for science fiction, and their music reflected that as their sound was bigger and spacier than Nirvana’s. They were also utterly melodic at pretty much all times, whereas Nirvana was oftentimes intentionally challenging and difficult to listen to, making Magnified
more accessible than arguably all of their albums.
opens fairly conventionally with the up-tempo, sort of catchy, and heavily distorted “Let it Drip” followed by the better “Moth,” which pulls off the soft-loud-louder dynamic without sounding stale. The band really hits its stride on “Frogs,” with its stomping rhythm leading the way and the guitars creating a huge soundscape that they would eventually improve upon. “Bernie” follows and is excellent, with its mix of acoustic and distorted electric guitar creating a sound that is equally hypnotic and creepy. The lone single, “Undone,” is truly catchy and “Wet Gravity” approaches metal, making it stand out a bit, but honestly there is not a bad track on the record, it maintains a high quality throughout. Almost all the playing on Magnified
is by the duo of Ken Andrews, who sings and plays guitar and bass, and Greg Edwards, who also plays guitar and bass as well as playing some of the drums on the album. John Dargahi also contributed on the drums, but otherwise this is entirely Andrews and Edwards, who are also the producers. This is an album that sounds simple on the surface, but reveals itself to be much more intricate upon closer listening. Andrews and Edwards perform admirably, never sounding sloppy nor getting too flashy with their instruments. Andrews’ vocals lack range, but are pleasant and impassioned.
There are only two things holding Magnified
back from being a truly classic album instead of just an extremely good one. First is the lack of that one song that sets itself apart from the rest and grabs you right away without letting go. There are only good songs here, but there is nothing as instantly memorable as a song like “Stuck on You,” which appeared on 1996’s Fantastic Planet
and was the closest thing the band had to a hit. The second thing just so happens to be Fantastic Planet
, which ended up being the band’s final album and possibly the alternative movement’s last great hoorah. It is a sprawling epic in every sense of the word, and tends to overshadow its predecessor due in large part to its last five tracks, which found the duo perfecting their sound and creating immense songs like “Heliotropic” and “Daylight.” Still, while Magnified
may not be Failure’s best album, it still is some of the best space rock and alternative rock of the 90s, and should not be overlooked by any fans of these genres.