Fantastic Planet (Slash/Warner Bros.)
It’s tough at this point in my life to choose one album as my favorite of all time, but I’d have to say that Fantastic Planet by Failure is one that has played a pivotal role in shaping my taste and creative outlook. If you blended Nirvana, The Cure, and Pink Floyd together, you might come close to a marginally accurate description of Failure’s unique sound. In my opinion, not only is this album one of the greatest rock albums from the 1990s (and probably the ultimate alternative rock cult classic), but it treads the fine line between dark and beautiful like few other records before or after it.
Fantastic Planet is the perfect record to put on at night and drift into the world the songs inhabit. The sequencing of the seventeen tracks — including three instrumental segues — ties the themes of drug abuse, alienation from one’s relationships, and total disassociation together into a cosmic listening experience that cuts straight through to the heart. These songs exude raw honesty and urgency; every ounce of desperation that songwriters Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards were going through was poured into this record.
Kellii Scott’s tastefully orchestrated drum parts lay a strong foundation for Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards to shine: unorthodox yet infectiously catchy vocal melodies mesh beautifully with dissonant riffs and chord progressions. Atmospheric guitar textures are layered seamlessly over crushing, distorted bass lines. Abstract sound design and unconventional production techniques like the intro of “Stuck on You” — a keyboard distorted through a guitar amp and various pedals — add sonic color to the album, but never to make up for lack of substance. The songwriting on this album is top-notch and extremely dynamic. There are hard-hitting uptempo songs like “Sergeant Politeness” and “Pillowhead”, gargantuan guitar-heavy choruses in “Saturday Saviour”, “Smoking Umbrellas”, and “Stuck on You”, and spacey, ethereal pieces like “Blank” and my personal favorite “Another Space Song” (this song is a masterpiece in and of itself).
In some ways, this album is closer in spirit to 70s progressive rock rather than 90s indie rock. As opposed to a lo-fi “garage” approach, the dense collage of sound on this album engulfs the listener. In fact, I’ve been listening to Fantastic Planet religiously for six years and I still unearth bizarre layers of heavily processed guitars, keyboards, and drum samples throughout the album! This record has also opened my eyes and ears to other great art I might never have come across otherwise — films like La Planète Sauvage (from which the album takes its title) and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (one of the standout tracks on the album was inspired by this film), as well as like-minded bands like underground noise-pop group Medicine.
Fantastic Planet definitively changed the way I approach music both as a listener and as a songwriter. Failure continues to be a huge influence on my band Analog Party and this album is certainly a creative benchmark in my mind. It was so ahead of its time in 1996 and still today remains a timeless classic.
Analog Party’s new video for “One” is out now.