Review Summary: Failure finds perfection.
When attempting to introduce various people to Failure, I often resort to labeling them as a "spacier version of Nirvana." While this succinctly describes their sound, it also inaccurately paints the band as being derivative, and does little to describe their high-reaching sense of concept. It is this sense of concept which really should define the band, and while Failure did release three enjoyable album's during the 90's, their "reach for the stars" aesthetic was never fully realized until "Fantastic Planet," a record that stands as the final product of a group of ambitious young musicians who managed, at least in an artistic sense, to reach their absolute fullest potential.
Thematically, "Fantastic Planet" explores the pain of addiction (if you need more details, the addiction they are specifically singing about is heroin), and while this description would lead you to expect the album to be oppressively dark, this is not the case. "Fantastic Planet" contains none of the harrowed, torturous grit and suffering found on similarly themed albums, such as Alice In Chains's almost equally impressive "Dirt". Instead, these songs are written with a sort of poignancy that betrays its feelings not with anger or screams, but with an overwhelming sense of longing and melancholy. Every part of "Fantastic Planet" contains romanticized undertones of desire and sexuality- and with this sort of relationship between the abuser and the addiction, the mental sickness the addict has become entrenched in grows to a much more profound level and enters entirely new realms of emotion for the band to color with their music.
While the album is clearly a product of the grunge/alternative rock boom of the 90's, the direction Failure takes the sound is incredibly unique, and occupies a sonic domain that is wholly their own. The band's competent musicianship is marked by the guitars, which propel the songs forward under their richly distorted textures. Otherworldly effects show up throughout the album in a calculated fashion and compel the listener's gazes skyward in a state daydreaming and wonder. It is nearly impossible to pick highlights, as they make themselves present at the album's every twist and turn. Personal favorites include "Smoking Umbrellas", which utilizes vibrant imagery and an incredibly strong chorus, "Dirty Blue Balloons", which features the album's best vocals and most chaotic moments, and "Another Space Song," which is where the album's space rock elements are most present. Also worth mentioning is the album's structure, which contains 3 "segue" pieces in its 70 minute run time. These segues are instrumental and mostly atmospheric, but they do a great job of simultaneously splitting the songs into suites and tying those suites together, which makes for a unique listening experience.
Though it would have been interesting to see what Failure would have done with more time together making music, there is something to be said for the way they went out at the top of their game. Even if their existence was woefully short, "Fantastic Planet" is a record so perfectly enthralling that it feels like it would have been looked at as the pinnacle of the band's career no matter what could have potentially came after it. It is one of the most complete feeling records I have ever listened to, and my appreciation for it has only grown over the years. It is a shame this band is not more well-known, as I would recommend them most highly to any serious music fan.
Dirty Blue Balloons
Another Space Song