Week 168: “Blank” by Failure


Failure was a rock band from California that rose to almost-fame in the 1990s. I was a young lad rising to almost-adulthood in the 1990s, subconsciously desperate for music that had more to offer than giant guitars and wanky solos. Failure reached my ears at the perfect time, bridging the gap between my Nirvana years and my Radiohead years.

Beginning in 1990, Failure was made up of two close friends, Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards. They worked hard, played show after show, and gradually started making some headway. By 1997 they had released three progressively better albums, toured in support of some major acts, and were playing Lollapalooza. They even got some radio play with “Stuck On You”, a strangely catchy song about…strangely catchy songs.

But then, almost out of poetic duty to their name, Failure collapsed. Watching Ken Andrews’ own documentary about his beloved band is difficult, as it clearly shows that this was a band on the way up, ultimately derailed by drug problems.

But even though addiction destroyed the band, it was probably also the fuel for their final album: the sprawling, epic, other-worldly rock landscape that is “Fantastic Planet”. I’ve heard people describe it as Radiohead’s “OK Computer” filtered through Nirvana’s “In Utero”, which is both an accurate and inadequate way of putting it.

And if you don’t have time for the album’s full 70-minute journey, this song is a good introduction.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The chord progression never resolves. I always thought this was a way more effective way of communicating angst in a song than yelling.

2. The instrumentation is different from most 90s rock. Big guitars are replaced by a lot of great noise. Strange sounds, unexpected instruments, and that wonderful, semi-enthusiastic “ba-ba-bada-da” line at 4:23.

3. The song shows signs that it’s going for the big finish, but in the end, the drums are the only thing that escalate to hugeness. Then they disappear in one final cymbal crash. I love that because 17-year-old me was disappointed that the song didn’t finish with a bang, but older and wiser recognizes that it’s okay. In fact it’s almost better, because the song serves as a nice soundtrack for the trajectory of the band that recorded it.

Recommended listening activity:

Admitting defeat and moving on.

Buy it here.