Once upon a time in Los Angeles, before hipsters or the internet…there was a band. This band cut their hair and wore suits when everyone else was wearing ripped jeans, flannels, and had long stringy bleached hair. This band played anthemic, spacey, melodic rock when everyone else was focusing on playing fuzzed-out, distorted grunge. This band broke up in the mid-nineties and some members went on to do production work on tracks by Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Beck. Others went on to play in Blinker the Star, A Perfect Circle, and form Autolux.
Their tenure was short and in an unfortunately prophetic turn, this band’s name was Failure.
I first heard of them on MTV (when that channel actually used to show music videos.) The video to Failure’s single, “Stuck on You,” looked like the opening credits to a James Bond film and although it had big power chords, the melodic drone set it apart from all the others. Their last proper album (1996’s “Fantastic Planet”) became one of my favorites when it came out and now seems very prescient. If not in terms of sound (although you could argue that Failure created a template for a bunch of Dangerbird bands) Failure’s aesthetic was very much like getting lost on a Wikipedia-YouTube bender.
When they started, they asked Steve Albini to helm their rawkish first release (1992’s “Comfort”) but by 1996 their obvious interest in getting spacey, giving their tracks texture by adding strange loops and samples, experimenting with instrumental segues, and making references to the heady science fiction of Tarkovsky and Rene Laloux, was not the sound of American rock at the time. It was the sound of rock with the spirit of trip-hop. It was briefly the sound of the early 00s before the 00s became the late 70s. Although stadium rock bands (A Perfect Circle) and kiddie pop-punk bands (Paramore) have covered their songs, Failure’s originals are beautifully crafted productions.
I have a real fondness for this band, and although it’s a shame they didn’t explode, they’ve all done pretty well for themselves and exist to be discovered by the kids. When I first came to the station, I was ecstatic when I came across their MBE set in our music library, and SUPER ecstatic when I came across a vinyl reissue of “Fantastic Planet” at Amoeba this past weekend. Their cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” on the “For The Masses” cover project is excellent, “Solaris” perfectly sums up Lem’s novel in song, and “The Nurse Who Loved Me” is as funny as it is epic as it is desperate. Failure? Yes, but not so much.