Released: August 13, 1996
History is filled with countless examples of unsung bands whose efforts proved crucial to a movement or scene that would ultimately pass them by. While the ’90s saw an alt-rock revival teeming with countless sound-alikes, Failure was a few years too early to the party. Still, while they only briefly flirted with the sort of monumental success that many of their peers would enjoy, the band left an indelible mark on the music that followed in their wake.
Failure’s third release, Fantastic Planet, is the very definition of a cult classic. Back in 1996, the album initially fell on deaf ears, but it has since garnered countless glowing reviews and testimonials from fans and musicians alike. Fantastic Planet represents the last artistic gasp of the L.A. band, as fractured relations and drug abuse created an irreparable divide between the group’s creative force, Greg Edwards and Ken Andrews. As both artists would spend the next decade exploring their own musical paths (Edwards with Autolux and Andrews via a slew of projects and solo releases), it’s a fitting testament to Fantastic Planet that it remains the album from which the rest of their post-Failure work is measured.
While their debut (the lo-fi, Steve Albini-produced Comfort) and its full-on grunge follow-up (Magnified) earned Failure their indie credibility, the vision for the band was fully realized on Fantastic Planet, an album that conjured the ‘space-rock’ tag and set into motion a template for countless imitations to come. Expansive in scope (seventeen tracks clocking in at just under seventy minutes), Fantastic Planet is an impressively focused affair. Each song fits perfectly into an overarching story of addiction-fueled dissociation, a point underscored with a series of gentle nods to the 1973 Animated French Film by the same name.
The album-opening “Saturday Saviour” is the ‘could’ve been/would’ve been’ anthem for a lost generation of alt-rock fans misrepresented by rap-metal and frat-rock. Meanwhile, the driving “Sergeant Politeness” mines familiar sonic territory to great effect before giving way to the first of three instrumental “Segues.” The pair of uber-catchy anthems that follow (“Smoking Umbrellas,” “Pillowhead”) completes the best opening salvo in the band’s catalog.
From there, the band continues to offer a balanced mix of alt-rock anthems and left-turn experimentation. Angst-riddled tracks like “Pitiful” and “Leo” are offset with the calm, ‘spaced-out’ vibe of songs like “Blank” and the fan-favorite “The Nurse Who Loved Me” (yes, the A Perfect Circle version is a cover). The lyrical themes ebb and flow as well, from poetically esoteric (”Another Space Song”) to painfully stark (“Dirty Blue Balloons”). Even the album’s lone single, “Stuck On You,” is a brilliant, heavy-handed exercise in wordplay. The understated grandeur of the closing track, “Daylight,” provides an appropriate sense of closure for a record that, with the benefit of hindsight, also served as an epilogue for Failure’s interpersonal relationships.
Musically, the band (Kellii Scott on drums, Edwards and Andrews handling everything else) sounds incredibly locked in, especially considering the uncertainty that permeated the sessions. Fantastic Planet might be an album from the ’90s, but it’s neither aesthetically nor sonically tethered to the decade. To that point, the album’s expansive mix, notably out of step with what had become that “90’s Atl-Rock” sound, is now a key ingredient to the album’s timeless accessibility.
The bottom line: Failure’s Fantastic Planet is a lost gem best measured by the sheer scope of its continued influence. If you are already familiar with the album, then this write-up is little more than a sermon to the choir. For anyone else, however, I encourage you to give this album a listen. After all, a lost classic is only ‘lost’ until it’s found.