“Fantastic Planet” (1996) / Failure
Failure’s “Fantastic Planet” has always brought forth to mind old sci-fi movies and novels. Whether it’s Dean Koontz’s “Seize the Night” or H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”, Georges Méliès “Le Voyage dans la Lune” or the iconic “Forbidden Planet” – the sense of the unknown, of discovering something beautifully (and often dangerously) alien, is carried throughout “Fantastic Planet”. Failure were like ‘scientists of sound’, creating their own unique sonic effects with customised guitar pedals and other gizmos, like they’d listened to Sonic Youth and took what the proto-grunge/noise rocks legends were producing as a foundation to create something beyond what everyone else was doing at the time. Grunge rock was dying out but the ethos was still prevalent: it was cool to look like you hadn’t put much effort into your music, but Failure weren’t afraid to show off their technical skills and production knowledge.
Fantastic Planet covers many themes, from drug addiction to prostitution, adding a sensitive human touch to the space-man proceedings. “Dirty Blue Balloons” is a bitter-sweet summer daydream before kicking off, the jarring guitar shuddering into life. The line “I’ve waited so long without you…” hits like the sun breaking through the clouds momentarily, enveloping you in its warmth before being shadowed again. You’re left feeling alone and cold, looking for that warm light, a bit hopelessly. “Heliotropic” feels immense, enormous: like the biggest and baddest hangover or a creeping heroin sickness, your head hurting from being out in the light for too long. “Another Space Song” is a sprawl, an astronaut floating in space with a nebula in the far distance behind them, shades of deep purple and burgundy framing their small shape. The lyrics feel like soul searching, or looking endlessly for ‘The One’: “She’ll always be what I can’t find / She’ll always be where I break down / She’ll always hide behind a star”. Failure really knew how to focus on the forlorn, the lost.
Fantastic Planet had two of Failure’s most well loved and popular tracks: “The Nurse Who Loved Me” (later covered by gothic alt-rock outfit A Perfect Circle) and “Stuck on You” (the band’s lead single from the album and also a minor hit on American radio). The Nurse Who Loved Me uses the ‘personification of drugs’ trope (the ‘she’ mentioned throughout the lyrics is not a person, but rather the drug they are addicted to), but in a way that you find yourself sympathising with the protagonist of the song – it’s common in rock music to have heroin represented as a ‘super hot sexy woman’ who wants to do anything, absolutely anything, with the main character of the song, which is a tired and dogged metaphor. There is pity for the protagonist of The Nurse Who Loved Me, lying on the floor, dreaming of an angelic saviour. Stuck on You also uses a personification metaphor, but this time around a song on the radio. The lyrics deal with picking up a habit no matter how hard you try to avoid it: “I claimed I didn’t care for you, But your verse got trapped inside my head, Over and over again. You played yourself to death in me”. Stuck On You itself is a very catchy song. In a major key with an uplifting intro, it’s hard to not put it on repeat – you’ll find yourself living out the lyrics, literally.
Amongst all the secret sounds waiting to be discovered on this album, one of the best things has to be that the album loops – if you stick it on repeat the end of “Daylight” ties up nicely to “Saturday Saviour” with its strange little bell, like a broken rotary phone or bicycle bell. There are references to old movies, some quite obscure (so obscure it’s only guesswork that they’re even references at all in some cases) or odd: take the “fur covered styrofoam” in closing track, Daylight, which is probably referencing the old set designs for films such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth or One Million Years BC. This may make Failure’s Fantastic Planet sound like a complex album, but it also serves very well as ‘surface music’ – music that you can put on without thinking too much about, the things that make it good don’t have to be picked apart and scrutinised for it to make sense (but that process is still fun). There are guitar riffs you’ll find yourself humming along to ages after the album finishes, a bass line that sounds like flames consuming the room (it’s not just words that can make metaphors), and plenty of choruses to sing along to in the car.
Failure have just opened a new chapter by recently reforming to record a new album to be released later in 2015. You can pre-order their new album via PledgeMusic here.
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