Back in the grunge-obsessed '90s, the record industry was eagerly scouring the country for more Nirvanas, and Failure seemed like as good a candidate as any. After being snatched up by Warners subsidiary Slash Records in 1992, the LA band did indeed garner significant critical acclaim and more than their fair share of Nirvana comparisons.
But by the time Failure released its third album, 1997's Fantastic Planet — and its moderately successful single "Stuck on You" — it had become clear the band was unable to capitalize or build upon that success. Despite their promising start, guitarist Ken Andrews admits that Failure's name appeared to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Does Andrews regret his now-reunited band's choice of a name? "Sure, all the time," he concedes. "At the beginning, I didn't take it very seriously; it was a bit of a joke." Andrews also notes that the execs at Slash Records absolutely loved it. "It was part of the reason they wanted to sign us!" He says that there have been times when he thought, "It's so 'anti,' such a crazy thing to name your band. And there have been times when I've thought, 'What the fuck were we thinking?'"
After a pair of well-received albums — 1992's Comfort and Magnified from 1994 — Failure began work on what would become Fantastic Planet. An ambitious album created as a complete work rather than a collection of tracks, it had the misfortune of being finished right as Slash Records neared collapse. The label's owners were seeking a buyer and didn't have any interest in releasing the album. Eventually Warner Brothers stepped in to buy Failure's contract, but a year and a half had passed between Fantastic Planet's completion and its release.
Making matters worse — much worse, in fact — the band members had descended into serious drug addiction. Failure "ceased to function in '97," Andrews says. "We couldn't play shows; we couldn't write a song. It wouldn't have surprised a lot of people if some of us had turned up dead at that point."
Andrews believes marriage and parenthood stabilized the Failure musicians, helping them "get back together as the good friends that we were when the band first started out. Then it became easy and natural to re-approach the music again."
Failure got back together in 2014, and soon thereafter recorded and released The Heart Is a Monster. Currently they're commemorating the 20th anniversary of Fantastic Planet with a tour in which they perform the album in its entirety.
Two decades on, Fantastic Planet doesn't sound dated; it has worn better than many other albums of its era. "I think that's part of the reason we're out here right now," says Andrews. "People still listen to that record all of the time, and maybe in a less nostalgic way than they listen to other records from the '90s."