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Failure

If you find someone who’s heard of Failure, chances are they’re young. Not juvenile young, but young enough to have only discovered the Californians in the intervening years between their disbandment in 1997 and their reunion in 2013. Failure enjoyed modest success in their initial run, releasing three underappreciated albums in a four-year span, but they barely made a blip on the commercial radar at the time.

Perhaps that was owing to the oddity of their sound – not quite space rock and not quite grunge, Failure utilised muddied guitars, swampy bass riffs, surreal lyricism and flourishes of sprawling, Pink Floyd-esque ambition, all infused with an off-kilter pop sensibility. After moderately successful Lollapalooza appearances, drug problems brought the band to a halt, and that was it. But as with so many of their contemporaries, the Internet – along with bands like A Perfect Circle and Paramore covering their songs – allowed a new generation to discover Failure’s music.
 
“I hear that so much,” says bassist and founding member Greg Edwards. “I just met two 20-year-olds yesterday before the show, and one of them had gotten turned on via A Perfect Circle and loved The Nurse Who Loved Me from the time he was seven. And then when he was in his late teens, he realised that it was actually written and originally performed by another band, and that’s how he found out about us. So I hear that story a lot, you know. I have to thank Maynard [James Keenan] for kidnapping the song, ultimately.”
 
Although those covers played a significant role in introducing Failure to a larger audience, the band’s legacy lies in the enduring appeal of its magnum opus, 1996’s Fantastic Planet. Taking its name from a surrealist French animation, Fantastic Planet remains one of the most ambitious and sprawling musical oddities of the ’90s, impenetrably dense but curiously inviting all the same. The album is capped with the five-track, 25-minute closing section, including the aforementioned The Nurse Who Loved Me, the astral earworm of Another Space Song, and the closing medley of Stuck On You, Heliotropic and Daylight. In another universe, those five tracks might have made Failure one of the biggest bands of the late ’90s.
 
“I just think it’s an entertaining record,” Edwards says. “It was an entertaining record to make, and it felt like, even though we didn’t set out to make a concept record and we didn’t set out to make a record with some sort of narrative thread, it just kind of ended up having [one] loosely, or at least impressionistically. As you listen to it, the emotional feeling you get is that there is a story, there is something holding it together.”
 
When Failure got back together two years ago, the first question was the same any reuniting band asks itself: who still cares? Judging by the sold-out shows and subsequent tours with old road-mates Tool, the answer was lots of people. In June this year, Failure finally released their fourth album, The Heart Is A Monster – 19 years after its predecessor. Surprisingly, when Edwards thinks about this new record, he’s more inclined to compare it to Failure’s second effort, 1994’s dense, bass-heavy and quirky Magnified.
 
“My main goal beyond good songs and anything else, is just, emotionally, it has a unique stamp. It’s a body of water you can kind of step into and you know it feels unlike any other pool. All my favourite records when I was growing up, and still when I happen to discover a new record that becomes my favourite, they always have that in common. It’s just an ineffable, hard-to-describe quality, but it keeps pulling you back in, and it’s something beyond just the quality of the songs or you like the singer’s voice or there’s something else going on. I think with Magnified, we definitely did that and in Fantastic Planet even more so.”
 
BY MATTHEW TOMICH

FAILURE are playing at Soundwave Festival 2016, with Disturbed, Bring Me The Horizon, The Prodigy, Deftones and more, at RAS Melbourne Showgrounds on Tuesday January 26. The Heart Is A Monster isout now through Kartel/Shock.