Posted on June 24th, 2015 (10:00 am) by Michael Negron

Failure are a band that have been struggling against comparison all their career. Caught up in the post-Nevermind “alternative” craze, critics were often quick to simplify their work as “faux Nirvana.” Ken Andrews sounding kind of similar to Cobain (though not as much as you might otherwise be led to believe) and their use of Steve Albini on their debut is seemingly enough to write them off. Even when they gained some strong critical appraisal for their later works, something that itself didn’t happen until much later still, the commentary was largely related to that earlier commentary, leaving the meat of the conversation about context. Now, almost 19 years after Fantastic Planet, the space-grunge magnum opus that fully realized their attempt to defy expectations, Failure have set the bar about as high as they come for anything new. But much like its predecessor, The Heart Is A Monster achieves the daunting task of eschewing context, albeit to somewhat less effect.

So then why are we talking about context? Well, just as on Comfort, and all things in their career, it’s difficult to talk about the album without addressing some earlier point. Even if there hadn’t been a two-decade lapse between releases, the album’s use of segues directly succeeds the three used on Fantastic Planet, even beginning the album with “Segue 4.” The transition tantalizes the verbal – and indeed sonic – palate, and at first it might seem like its begging to be Fantastic Planet II. As the kitsch collages unfold, they’re a little more abstract than what appeared on its predecessor; the tracks work within that same “space-y” atmospheric sheen, but approach it from an entirely different angle.

Even the structure is crafted in much the same way as Fantastic Planet: they have approximately the same number of tracks, each side having a separate, definitive tone, and track 9 signaling the change from one to the other. There’s no one track that captures the album’s essence as well as “Another Space Song” – though “Fair Light Era” comes close – but the individual sides see a wide breadth of development even beyond that dividing line; the first side contains the more traditionally pop-oriented tracks, while the second, containing four of the album’s six segues, is necessarily darker and experiments with the sounds introduced in the first half – a tactic adopted, again, from its sister record.

There’s far too much coincidence for this to be unintentional, but even if it is, it stands as an answer to some of the problems Heart faces, both as a Failure release and a comeback album. Failure neither rehashes their earlier work nor ignores it altogether; the album is undoubtedly indebted to the chronology that precedes it, but manages to not only successfully pick up where Fantastic Planet left off – a feat all its own – but also knowingly references criticisms of that era (unfounded or otherwise) and again dabbles in a sound framed by its time but not owned by it.

It’s understandable why Failure are so often linked – to the point of abuse – with the phenomenon of grunge: they’re the less-famous Nirvana of the immediate post-Nirvana generation, a silent group of artists whisked onto labels in a shameless attempt to cash in on grunge hype, and just as quickly dropped before the decade was even out. Whether they were the pinnacle of their peers or simply the perfect paradigm among them, they've again captured a slice of time while also standing sideways within it. Where Fantastic Planet accidentally keyed in to a frustrated subculture, The Heart Is A Monster is their possibly accidental retort to the contextual criticism they’ve so often garnered. That might not make it the profound masterpiece some hoped for, but it does prove that Failure's success is owed neither to fluke nor cultural happenstance. In short, let this be the last time we mention Failure’s connection to Kurt and the 90s and grunge (or dare we say post-grunge) and even their earlier releases; they’ve certainly earned it.

Track List:

  1. Segue 4
  2. Hot Traveler
  3. A.M. Amnesia
  4. Snow Angel
  5. Atom City Queen
  6. Segue 5
  7. Counterfeit Sky
  8. Petting the Carpet
  9. Mulholland Dr.
  10. Fair Light Era
  11. Segue 6
  12. Come Crashing
  13. Segue 7
  14. The Focus
  15. Otherwhere
  16. Segue 8
  17. I Can See Houses
  18. Segue 9
Failure - The Heart Is A Monster
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Our Rating

70 / 100
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