(five stars out of five)
Failure managed to find the perfect blend of monstrously thick guitars, catchy hooks, artful composition and incisively pu re songwriting on 1994’s Magnified. Now, the incredible Fantastic Planet manages not only to surpass that previous watermark’s quality, but also to breathe life into the corpse of contemporary, guitar-driven rock. Once again digging their heels into the unsteady equilibrium between powerfully melancholy heaviness, oblique lyricism and jaw-dropping spaciousness, the trio pushes the equation even further, with astonishing results.
Failure are unabashedly a guitar-rock band, but, unlike most in that category, they are also willing to stretch the definition of both their instruments and their songs. It’s this sort of rock-based experimentation that makes Fantastic Planet amazing. To wit: Although the guitar is the most obvious and featured instrument on the record, it’s actually the bass-playing that guides most of the melodies here. This unusual setup allows guitarist Ken Andrews to pile up alternating layers of thick atmosphere and gut-busting power without relying on the guitar for such mundane tasks as following the vocal line. The outcome: fourteen winning songs like the rollicking “Sergeant Politeness,” the epic noise of “Heliotropic,” the loping, feedback-drenched “Another Space Song” and, most impressively, the bleakly catchy crunch of “Saturday Saviour” and “Smoking Umbrellas” (even the lyrically disappointing heroin ballad of “Dirty Blue Balloons’ manages to have an unshakable appeal) that position Fantastic Planet as a defining point. Unfortunately, the album will probably go completely ignored. Don’t be so stupid.
First appeared in the Nov. 1996 issue of Alternative Press.