19 Years Ago: Failure Release Their Best Album, ‘Fantastic Planet’
Failure came into their own during the alternative boom of the '90s and were subsequently lumped into that category. But if anything, they were a sort of second-tier alternative -- an alternative to the alternative, so to speak. Failure's music was always much more meticulous and thought-out than your average grunge band, and as such, they never really found their audience.
That doesn't mean, though, that they didn't make some amazing music during the relatively short time they were together. They played and recorded together for about eight years and released three albums during that time. Their last album, Fantastic Planet, is widely regarded as their best.
Failure formed in 1990 and released their first album, Comfort, on Slash Records in 1992. Around that time, the band also went on tour opening for an up-and-coming metal act named Tool. Failure began to pick up some steam, and things were looking good for the band when they released their second album, Magnified, in 1994. When they were ready to begin work on their third album, they decided to do things themselves. They rented a house just outside of L.A. from famed metal goddess Lita Ford and got to work.
The fellows decided to take an approach different than the norm, opting to finish each song entirely before moving on to the next one. This approach took much more time than the standard assembly line way of recording an album, which means recording all the drums, then all the guitars, then all the vocals, etc.
Guitarist Ken Andrews told Noisey:
I don't think we could've made Fantastic Planet in the standard way that rock albums are made, where you record the drums for all the songs first, and then build on that. ... It takes longer, but it makes more sense for us artistically to explore a song completely before you move on. I don't feel like songs get a fair shake unless you go all the way with them—or at least 90 percent of the way. Because a lot of the time, the song takes a turn in that last ten or 20 percent that puts it into this whole other place you didn't expect.
The result of this lengthy, unsupervised process was Fantastic Planet, named after the surreal French cartoon from 1973. The band finished the album in 1995, but problems with Slash Records kept it shelved for more than a year. Slash was in a partnership with Warner Bros. Records, who pressed and distributed Slash's output. But around the time Failure were finishing their third album, Warner Bros. decided not to renew its contract with Slash. Warner Bros. eventually decided to release Fantastic Planet as its last album with Slash. By this time, however, heroin had become the unofficial fourth member of Failure. Drug addiction generated pressure that would, along with other complicating factors, lead to the band's demise in 1997.
Fantastic Planet is a bit of an anomaly in that it includes 17 songs without a single weak spot. It's rare for a band to craft such a lengthy album without some songs that seem self-indulgent and superfluous. Perhaps the most recognizable song from this album is "The Nurse Who Loved Me," which, if nothing else, proved that the band was very far afield from the dying grunge movement of the time:
Failure did have one thing in common with bands from the grunge movement: writing thinly-veiled odes to drug addiction. "Stuck on You" is one of the better drug love songs from the '90s, and it's the only song from Fantastic Planet to have a video:
Fantastic Planet is known for its dense, lush production and arrangement. On the track "Another Space Song," the time and effort the band members put into writing and recording the album is joyfully apparent:
Failure eventually reunited to much rejoicing, discovering their fanbase had grown substantially during their absence. Earlier this year, they released their first album since 1996, titled The Heart Is a Monster. Now they're touring again, and the world is a better place for it.