Release Date: Jun 30, 2015
Record label: Failure
On his commentary track for Failure's 2004 longform retrospective video Golden, bassist/guitarist Greg Edwards recalls the time that Steve Albini "schooled me in how screwed I was for the rest of my life" after signing a record deal. Albini, Edwards adds, "wasn't totally wrong." Maybe so, but Edwards was lucky in the sense that Failure never actually sold enough units to get swindled out of much. Moreover, Slash (then a Warner subsidiary that had retained some of its indie spirit) gave the L.A.
Nineteen years ago, Failure launched into deep space with their underrated opus Fantastic Planet. It was like a foreboding Kubrickian monolith, coming from seemingly nowhere. For those who did find the record, it became an obsession. As years went on, notions of a follow-up were easy to dismiss ….
Failure's last studio album, 1996's underrated Fantastic Planet, arrived a little too late to the stadium alt-rock party to make any kind of significant commercial impact, due in large part to label woes and heroin addiction, but it offered up a master class in emotionally spent, melodically charged space grunge that managed to accrue a huge fan base as the years went on. Released in 2015, The Heart Is a Monster picks right up where Fantastic Planet left off, even going so far as to add to the sequence of instrumental (and incremental) segues that the band laid out on the former. Failure have also found a way to retain their gargantuan net of sound, though they manage to punctuate things this time around with some more pronounced pop elements.
Failure's 1996 space-rock masterpiece, Fantastic Planet, didn't receive considerable recognition at the time, but certainly has since. Meticulously self-produced in a house-turned-recording studio, the result sported an innovative sound with a palpable sense of the tinkering behind it. Layered, moody dissonance was balanced brilliantly by dynamic melody and rhythm.
Since their breakup in the late Nineties, Clinton-era alt-rockers Failure have gone from overlooked coulda-beens to cult heroes, numbering Tool and Paramore among their admirers. The band's first album in 19 years justifies their rep. Spacey and sprawling yet packing plenty of guitar muscle, The Heart Is a Monster picks up where 1996's Fantastic Planet left off (literally: Both albums contain several numbered "Segue" tracks).
Back in the ‘90s, there was a proliferation of alternative rock guitar bands who carefully blended hard rock hooks and heavy guitar sounds with singalong melodies and lyrics that ran the emotional gamut. That’s not news, of course – it’s a sound that was sneered at by hipsters at the time and hasn’t been looked upon fondly by their descendents, despite the influence avatars such as Bob Mould and Soundgarden continue to have. Arguably, the reason alt.
Nineteen years after Failure’s breakthrough album Fantastic Planet, Greg Edwards, Ken Andrews and Kellii Scott are awake again, having rubbed the sleep from their eyes and delivered an album that’s as rooted in 1996 as it is in 2015. It’s not easy to just pick up where they left off, but thankfully, good pop songs don’t have an expiry date, and neither does the titanic guitar tone Failure have become known for. The occasional “segues” throughout the record recall Fantastic Planet and although they help give it some variety and atmosphere, they also feel like too much of a throwback rather than helping The Heart Is A Monster stands on its own.