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Fantastic Failures

Alison Dyer

Nothing Succeeds Like: Failure takes a journey to a "Fantastic Planet."

What's in a name? Failure is anything but

By Nicky Baxter

CELEBRATING the downside is obligatory in alternative rock. Hence, naming your band Failure makes perfect marketing sense. It's catchy, and you can mope to it. Oh, yes; it is also a contradiction, because the L.A. band's music, particularly on its latest album, is anything but a failure.

Superficially just another guitar band whose musical heritage can be traced to the great northwest, Failure possesses a cinematic touch far more expansive than washed-out plaid. Indeed, Fantastic Planet (Warner Bros.) was named after an animated French film made in the '70s.

According to Failure's co-chiefs--guitarist/vocalist Ken Andrews and bassist Greg Edwards--motion pictures, not music, had the most profound impact on album's sonic view. To Failure's credit, Fantastic Planet is artful rather than artsy.

The set kicks off and concludes with verdant jungleland gurgling, a sign perhaps that the world the album explores is somewhat different than our own. In between, there's lots of clamorously melodic drama.

Failure brings the noise right off the bat with "Saturday Savior" and "Sergeant Politeness." The former employs the by now quite familiar light/heavy formula, ladling on buckets of sludge for good measure. There is also the quiet (singing and strumming) before the storm; the hook before the punch line ("I just want to be your Saturday savior ... the impostor in your bed), with Andrews as a crypto-misogynist.

"Sergeant Politeness" distinguishes itself with roiling guitars, a hummable bass figure and drummer Kellii Scott's Keith Moon­like bashing. On the final chorus' fade-out, Andrews' raw-tonsiled caterwaul is vintage Kurt Cobain. "Smoking Umbrella" illustrates even more obviously the Nirvana principle in action.

Other songs--particularly "Pillowhead"--reinforce the notion that Failure is no copy machine. A rippling acoustic guitar line runs horizontally with a scabrous, industrial-like lead guitar. Underneath, Scott's drumming sounds like a backfiring jalopy.

Failure has mastered the yin and yang ideal; for every foray in dreamtime (the triad of segues, "Heliotropic"), Fantastic Planet contains a ship-load of kick-out-the-jams rock. These pendular swings would go nowhere, of course, were it not for Failure's musical facility, smart songcrafting and lyrics that leave plenty of space for listeners to inhabit.

Fantastic Planet is light years away from the band's Steve Albini­produced debut, Comfort, a less than agreeable affair. The much more self-contained Magnified came closer to the mark. And now there is Fantastic Planet, which, despite its protracted gestation period, triumphs from the word "lift-off."

Best of all, with the addition of second guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, a supportive new label and a string of showcase dates, everything appears in place to make Failure a winning proposition.

Failure performs at the KOME Almost Acoustic Christmas Thursday (Dec. 12) at the San Jose Event Center, Fifth and San Carlos streets, San Jose. Tickets are $22.50. (BASS)

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From the December 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro

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