20 years ago was 1996. Pokemon had just been released to the masses while Blink 182 had just signed to a major label. Enter 2016 and Pokemon has just been released to the masses again, while Blink 182 has a number one song on the Billboard charts. Time is a flat circle, right?
In 1996 I was 6 years old and had no idea who Failure was, or even Blink 182.
I definitely had Pokemon, but my knowledge of music didn’t extend any further than the chiptunes coming out of my Gameboy.
Failure released Fantastic Planet in 1996. Post-Nirvana, post-grunge, pre-9/11, and pre-everyone having the internet in their pocket. Today, I can load up Spotify or Youtube and load up Fantastic Planet in less than 10 seconds.
Honestly, I prefer Magnified as my favorite Failure record but Fantastic Planet is a close second. It’s an hour long rock and roll venture through heroin use and outer space that doesn’t sound entirely dated 20 years later. Along with their contemporaries in Hum, Failure paved the way for some of my favorite bands like Cave In, Deftones and Torche. Fantastic Planet was their magnum opus and still stands strong to this day.
It’s a long record with about a third of it being filler. Segues and instrumental breaks space apart the meat of the album. Listening to Fantastic Planet is like watching a Sci-Fi movie. There’s essentially three “acts” broken up by segues. Some songs have more action than others while some songs carry more emotional weight through their lyrics. Failure have said in interviews that they wanted to make an “epic” and I think they succeeded.
Fantastic Planet is a record that really lends itself to repeated listenings and while listening to it with headphones. The story of how Failure rented a house and produced the record themselves is fascinating enough on its own, and glimpses of that are seen in their Golden documentary. I’ve listened to this record tons of times and I still continue to catch new sound effects and production tricks. Basslines get panned to one side while a dissonant guitar melody plays on the other. Electric saws and motorcycles get sampled on the Segue tracks. I think it’s remarkable how much stuff is crammed into one hour, especially a record produced just by the band. Their bass tone is on point in every song and it is easy to think there are multiple guitar players in the band. Kellii Scott puts out some tightly knit drumming that isn’t overly flashy or complicated. All of this comes together to make Failure’s sound unique and hard to replicate.
Failure’s lyrical themes on Fantastic Planet sound like love songs. Drug induced love songs, but nonetheless. Themes of space and distantness and dislocation, feeling like you don’t belong on this planet. These songs are objectively sad but overall feel optimistic. Greg Edwards’ lyric writing sounds like they’re coming from a dark place in his life but projecting out into the universe makes his lyrics sound bigger and more profound.
“Stuck On You” almost sounds like it could be a cut track from Weezer’s Pinkerton, at least thematically. Pining for a loved one but still feeling alone, trapped with your own thoughts. It’s one of the best songs on Fantastic Planet and encapsulates what Failure is proficient at.
“Saturday Saviour” and “The Nurse Who Loved Me” also show what Failure is capable of where these songs build and build into a huge climax of noise and dissonance. “Pitiful” and “Another Space Song” are more standouts from the record with either some kind of memorable guitar riff, bass line or drum fill. Fantastic Planet has that effect on me where I will get one of those stuck in my head and have to go listen to the song to scratch that itch.
Failure are one of thousands of bands who achieved cult status after they broke up. I only first heard them several years ago but Fantastic Planet and Magnified make it into my rotation more than a lot of newer music. Failure reunited in 2013 and put out a new record that wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t Fantastic Planet.
Fantastic Planet is a relic of the 90’s that should have its place in history. Put in a time capsule and let someone find it in 2116 and hopefully it will have the same effect on them as it did on me.
by Nathan Dimit (@ndimit)