Review: Failure – The Heart Is A Monster
The first track of The Heart Is A Monster, Failure‘s first album in 19 years, is named “Segue 4”. Long time fans, be excited – the album lives up to what that title promises. Now, for the young and/or uninformed who find that confusing, a history lesson; Failure created a perfect album in 1996 and they know it. They and a small, precious handful of like-minded bands were so good at “post-grunge” that critics and fans coined the microgenre of “space rock” to describe the expansive sound and differentiate them from the massive glut of their flannel-clad Nirvana-wannabe contemporaries who just did not… you know… “get it”. These bands (like Failure, Hum, and Shiner) gradually faded from the dim stardom their minor hit singles afforded them, only to be inducted into the “ahead-of-their-time rock n’ roll hall of fame” by their fiercely loyal cult following.
Failures’ aforementioned perfect album was called Fantastic Planet. They engineered it themselves in Lita Ford‘s Los Angeles home, so they had all the time they wanted to record it. The result of this relaxed atmosphere was a dense and lengthy album, the atmosphere of which mirrored the lyrical themes of interstellar travel, malaise, and drug usage. Among Fantastic Planet’s meticulously paced seventeen tracks are three ambient moodsetters, named “Segue 1”, “Segue 2”, and “Segue 3”.
Failure broke up after this album, and, save for some b-side compilations, have been silent for nearly two decades. Last year they announced a comeback tour, then a new album. That album is now upon us, and Failure has audaciously hinted that this album is a companion piece to their now hallowed 1996 masterpiece by continuing to name segues consecutively in reference to those found on Fantastic Planet.
After seeing The Heart Is A Monster‘s tracklisting, I decided I would first listen to Fantastic Planet in full and then immediately follow it up with Heart. When listened to in this way, with Heart as a supersized side “B” to Fantastic Planet, the sensation is that Fantastic wanders in a dreamscape – then after the bleeps and bloops of “Segue 4″ eases us through a 19 year production quality difference; “Hot Traveler” feels like a space cadet has finally awoken from hyperbaric sleep and arrived on the planet they sought after, only to find the landscape much more troublesome than anticipated.
Like Fantastic Planet, Heart is a lengthy and thorough exploration of modern midtempo hard rock music. The chorus of “A.M. Amnesia” is neck-snappingly heavy while also being alarmingly beautiful. The verses of “Counterfeit Sky” might as well be the dictionary definition of what “space rock” ought to mean, while “Otherwhere” proves that even dissonance can be grandiose and interplanetary. In a just world “The Focus” would be a heavy rotation single on your local alt rock radio station. Actually, that’s true of just about all these songs; for instance, “Come Crashing” might be Failure’s most effective earworm since “The Nurse Who Loved Me“.
The production of this album is very careful and detailed, but Failure’s performances still sound quite human. A careful listen to “The Focus” reveals that the massive, diverse sound of that song (as on most of the record) is accomplished with a standard power trio setup, no overdubs required. The crackling, fat bass fills up the sound such that the guitar can freely bounce between tones and the song still has consistent texture.
(Demo/alternate version of “The Focus” released last year)
The Heart Is A Monster is a fabulous, timeless rock album that I am certain will still sound fresh in twenty years’ time, just as Failure’s previous efforts have done. In a time where ’90s worship is at a fever pitch, the masters have come back to show us all how it’s done. Take notes, kids.
The Heart Is A Monster will be released June 30th through INgrooves Music Group.