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100 Albums: "Fantastic Planet" by Failure


Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Failure
Title: Fantastic Planet
Released: 1996
Genre: space rock


In the late 90s rock was being eclipsed by the bubblegum pop explosion. Grunge was fading from radio to make room for nu-metal and power pop acts like Blink-182. But there were a handful of weirder songs that slipped through into mainstream rock radio that felt like harbingers of an experimental direction that grunge might have explored if it only had a little more time. Stuff like Incubus' Make Yourself or Elwood's rap-rock reworking of Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown. Another one of these what-the-hell-did-I-just-hear gems was Failure's Stuck On You, from their sci-fi epic Fantastic Planet. It was nerd-voice crooning angst over guitars that alternately crunched and keened. It was like Weezer, but less polished and less immediately accessible. This was an act that aspired to be Pink Floyd, not Buddy Holly. It sounded like Nerf Herder, if they'd decided to go artsy-nerdy instead of just nerdy.

Clocking in at 68 minutes, Fantastic Planet is an ambitious record, spanning seventeen tracks, including a number of instrumental segues. The opening riff of album starter Saturday Savior sets the tone perfectly. It's crunchy riff-rock, but songwriters Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards are great at picking an unexpected chord. Riffs never resolve where you expect them to, but they also never sound incomplete or off. Pillowhead and Smoking Umbrellas are bass-forward songs that move along at a thunderous clip. The album actually banks its best songs for the back half, with tunes like Pitiful, Leo, and the excellent/cacophonous The Nurse Who Loved Me. The lead single from this album, Stuck On You, is the third song from the end. And it closes strong with Daylight, whose final notes harken back to the Saturday Savior intro.

It's a dense record with some indelible hooks and a ton of atmosphere. It rewards re-listening and is arguably one of the truly under-appreciated records of the 90s.

Further Listening: I don't know much else from this band, but one of its members has appeared on this list twice already, sort of. After the band split in 1997, Troy Van Leeuwen (who joined the band to tour this album) went on join to A Perfect Circle (who also covered this album's The Nurse Who Loved Me on their album Thirteenth Step) for a few years and then joined Queens Of The Stone Age for their Songs For The Deaf tour and has been with them ever since.

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