Review Summary: One of the best albums of the 90's, and a masterpiece of alternative rock.5 of 5 thought this review was well written
Ken Andrews, an unsung genius of the 90's alternative rock scene, produces his greatest musical achievement with 1996's Fantastic Planet
. To call this album underrated would be a tad bit cliche, yet it's safe to say that it is underrated considering how poorly it sold. Its sales numbers, however, are no indication of its quality - not one bit.
To be quite frank, the album does take a while to fully digest. First of all, it's 17 tracks long and clocks in at close to 70 minutes. What this means is that it definitely takes a few listens to even get into for most listeners - me included (if you liked it immediately, I'm jealous). In fact, I will openly say that the first 2-3 times I tried to listen to it, I wasn't impressed. The band sounded pretty average to me. Perhaps that explains why this band is so underrated. I guess there is only so much time the average listener is willing to invest into an artist or album, which is perfectly fine. But for the rest of us, this album provides so many treasures for the musical ear to discover.
In what proved to be the band's final work, Andrews went for broke with a lengthy concept album exploring the life of a heroin addict, all the while interconnecting the theme of drug abuse with space metaphors. The perfect example of this is the beautiful, and appropriately named, Another Space Song
. It's a perfect example of the genius of this album, blending guitars to create a spacey mood to the song throughout.
The beauty of Fantastic Planet
, however, lies in the fact that all this is not even evident on the face it. Almost every song sounds like it could be about something else. For example, perhaps the most well-known song on the album (but by no means the best), Stuck on You
, could easily be interpreted to be about a song stuck in his head, but upon closer listen, reveals itself as describing his addiction to the drug.
The album opens in the same way it ends, with the ringing of what sounds like an alarm clock or music box. Saturday Saviour
kicks it off, a solid rock song, which to me sounds like he is taking the perspective of the drug talking to the user, enticing him to take it, and allowing it to become his "saturday saviour." The song is quite catchy, and is a great way to kick off the album.
Overall, Fantastic Planet
is very well produced. Andrews and the band produced the whole thing themselves, and the result is quite impressive (Andrews would later go on to produce albums for much more popular artists). The production strikes a great balance between the interchanging acoustic and distorted electric guitars. This interchange works to perfection on the next song: Sergeant Politeness
. One of my personal favorites, it definitely sounds like it came from the year 1996. It's a great hard rock tune, and the drumming flows exceptionally well with the guitars and bass on this track. The final chorus, and the lead up to it, is pure rock genius in my opinion.
The end of this rocker merges into the next track, the first of the three segues, Segue 1
. It's filled with great sound effects adding to the whole concept of the album, and is followed by a dark melody, which eventually leads up to another favorite of mine... Smoking Umbrellas
: this song has it all. It again demonstrates the band's great ability to switch their tempo and sound at will. The bass and drums are extremely in synch, and the catchy guitar riff flows along, with the result being a magnificent rock song. Failure once again show their ability to build up a song and finish it off in awesome style.
Another great aspect of the album is that it's extremely well textured and layered. Every listen provides something new, and this is true for all the tracks. Even now, I still hear new things that I hadn't heard before in some of the songs. Andrews' talent as a producer really shines through here, and he succeeds in creating the dark atmosphere of a heroin addict's life. Songs like Pillowhead
, and Dirty Blue Balloons
are great examples of this. Pillowhead
is a very punk-influenced song, with the added effect of a heavy bass line backed by a wall of distorted guitars. The lyrics provide a harrowing perspective of a heroin addict. This mood continues but calms down significantly with Blank
. This is a mostly acoustic song, and the lyrics are equally, if not more, outstanding. The change of pace that comes with this song really adds to the album.
is equally as dark as the first one and it leads us to the next part of the album.
Dirty Blue Balloons
is perhaps the most revealing song in terms of the album's theme, since the lyrics clearly talk about buying and then using drugs. Nevertheless, it is another great song, and the one that I would consider the most grunge-influenced. It's followed by Solaris
. The lyrics are exceptional and thought-provoking on this song, and the eerie "space-rockish" guitars really add emphasis to the words. It's also practically overflowing with drug metaphors. Andrews' own anguish is clear for all to see on this song.
are both simple rock songs, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Both songs are catchy, and the lyrics add some detail to the whole album's story. Pitiful
is another grunge-influenced song on the album, and there is some good drumming here too. Leo
is a more fast-paced song, and, for all the comparisons that people make to Nirvana (which I disagree completely with), this is their one song that in my opinion is very reminiscent of the vocals of Cobain and the sound of Nirvana. Segue 3
, my favorite of the three segues, follows and is a haunting tune that leads to the best and last part of the album.
The Nurse Who Loved Me
is perhaps the greatest song on the album. The buildup work is just phenomenal, leading up to a thrilling solo and ending to the song. It is probably Andrews' finest moment as a musician. The lyrics, once revealed for their true meaning, are the desperate musings of a heroin addict. The aforementioned Another Space Song
and Stuck on You
follow this gem.
, both coming in at over 6 minutes long each, close out this masterpiece in style. The former sounds mostly like a jam session, but the musicianship is very impressive from all the members on this one. The latter is a highlight of the album, and is perhaps the darkest and most haunting of all the tracks on this album, and a fitting ending to a magnificent album.
The album ends in the same way it began, with the music box/alarm clock ring fading out. This is maybe the loudest statement made in the entire album, as it indicates the vicious cycle of a heroin addict - the fact that every day repeats itself in the same way and there is nothing he can do to stop it. This adds to the overall terrific production, and indicates that a great deal of thought went into the album.
Overall, the best part is, the first time I heard Fantastic Planet
, I didn't notice any of the things I just wrote about.
The Nurse Who Loved Me
Another Space Song