35 Albums in 35 Years: 1996

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it. Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


failurefp1996: Failure’s Fantastic Planet

There are very few albums I’ve found that afford the complete and utter devotion from fans that Failure’s third and final album Fantastic Planet does. There are also very few albums with that kind of fervent admiration that so many other people are wholly ignorant of or indifferent to. It would seem that you either adore the album or have absolutely no idea who Failure is. If you are among the uninitiated, then I implore you to stop everything you’re doing, procure yourself a copy of this amazing album, buckle up, and prepare to be blasted through the cosmos on a journey through metaphoric space imagery and drug addiction references. Let the precision drumbeats, the flawless, crystal clear production, and the interstellar guitar tones guide you. And let go. This album is a monster.

I discovered LA’s Failure in high school after listening to the self-titled 1995 album by Ken Andrews’ and Greg Edwards’ side project band Replicants (another album that you should totally check out). The wonderful array of space-rock, alt-metal, psych-pop cover songs on that Replicants record left me craving more, and with no more to be had (the band only released that one album), I gravitated towards the related musical projects…namely Failure.

Failure’s first two albums (Comfort and Magnified respectively) are instant classics and belong in music libraries and collections all across the country…but Fantastic Planet is on a whole other level unto itself. It takes the sound and tone the band molded on their previous efforts and perfects and broadens it into a veritable space opera divided into three parts. The first section, comprised of two tracks (“Saturday Saviour” and “Sergeant Politeness”) begins the album in a grounded state, almost a pre-lift-off of sorts, but then segues into heavier and headier terrain with the beginning of section two on “Smoking Umbrellas.” The album’s drug and addiction references start to unfold more fully here. If “Dirty Blue Balloons” isn’t about heroin, then I guess I’m just way off base. On queue, the space metaphors begin in earnest, paralleled with all the drug stuff, signaling a take-off, our bodies and minds floating away.

The third and final act of the album begins with “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” a love song and ode to the person who keeps you swimming in prescription pills, and perhaps the last grasp at the ground before the album veers into the deeper cosmos. The transition from “Another Space Song” to “Stuck on You” to “Heliotropic” to the grand and epic conclusion of “Daylight” feels like moving into the ether, or the abyss, or oblivion. It’s like taking one last look back at your life, your world, your humanity, before meeting the “space baby” at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a sea of colors, sounds, and textures.

Or maybe I’m reading into it too much.

I got into the band when I was 17, and it wasn’t that Fantastic Planet spoke to me on any particularly deep level or anything, but it was a prevalent and constant soundtrack to so many things that happened during my last year of high school. To me, it’s the sound of hanging out with friends, driving around our little city with absolutely nothing to do, bored, but still having fun. It’s the sound of sneaking beers and cigarettes and then chewing an entire pack of gum to mask the odor before going home. It’s the sound of bullshitting in the backyard. It’s the sound of small house parties. It’s the sound of being a teenager with this vast expanse of life and experiences waiting before me.

And now, it just takes me back.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but sometimes there are albums that have an uncanny ability to transport me back to a certain period of my life, reviving old memories, igniting a recall of colors, sounds, moods, and feelings. And it’s kind of bittersweet, this nostalgia incarnate, but at the same time, I’m grateful that I’ve had so much music in my life.

And, after 18 years, I’ll finally get to see the band live next month with a group of guys I’ve know since high school or before. We all kind of discovered Failure together, so it seems only right that we see them for the first time together as well.

(I’m such a sentimental bastard.)

Coincidentally, the band released their first new material since Fantastic Planet while I was writing this article. It’s like the stars are aligning…or something.

- Favorite song: “Stuck on You”
– Runner up: “Daylight”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Weezer’s Pinkerton; Eels’ Beautiful Freak; Suede’s Coming Up; Sloan’s One Chord to Another; Beck’s Odelay; DJ Shadow’s …Endtroducing.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

One Response to 35 Albums in 35 Years: 1996
  1. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Literally just heard this record for the first time about 6 months ago when my friend Jacob – who was shocked I’d never heard it – sent it to me. Fantastic indeed!

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