Failure: The Return of the Greatest ’90s Band You’ve Never Heard
By Jay Tilles
Failure could have been one of the most innovative bands to come out of the ’90s. That is, if they would have made it out of the decade intact. Personal conflicts, stalled sales and label politics resulted in their separation in 1997. But since then, former bandmates Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards have quietly watched their music rise to near cult status among older fans and those too young to have heard them the first time around.
The alt rock band’s first two records resulted in a small dedicated following, but it was their third (and final album), Fantastic Planet, that has continued to bring in new fans and earned the title of the “most underrated album of the ’90s” from Ultimate Guitar.
Produced solely by the band with little or no outside help, critics and fellow artists agreed that the album was a sheer masterpiece. Later, after disbanding, Paramore would famously cover Failure’s biting ballad about drug addiction, “Stuck On You” for their 2006 EP Summer Tic, a line the young band borrowed from the song itself.
The L.A. band faced an uphill battle from day one. Their 1990 debut got lost in a sea of flannel and two albums later, the Los Angeles locals found themselves caught in the transition from grunge to nü-metal. Moody Seattle bands and personalities like Fred Durst monopolized the airwaves leaving little room for experimental bands like Failure to break through.
“When we came out it was all about grunge and Pearl Jam and Nirvana and I think our sound didn’t check all the boxes for grunge so it was a bit of a problem,” singer Ken Andrews told Radio.com. It’s true that their metaphorical lyrics and heavy pop song structures may have been too heady at a time when fans were clamoring for in-your-face, easy-to-digest headbangers.
Despite having a minor MTV hit with “Stuck On You,” and press being overwhelmingly positive, the band and record label were unable to create a sustained buzz. “That’s why this whole thing feels good for us now,” continued Andrews. “It didn’t end well for us in the ‘90s. We never felt like the album got the recognition, we had drug problems, the label was ambivalent.”
The members would go on to have successful music careers on their own. Known for producing the bulk of Failure’s music, Andrews was in high demand. When he wasn’t working on his own projects like ON and Year of the Rabbit, he found himself producing or mixing for Paramore, Nine Inch Nails, Beck, A Perfect Circle, Tenacious D and Chris Cornell.
Edwards, a multi-instrumentalist, co-founded Autolux in 2000 and counts Nine Inch Nails, The White Stripes, and Beck among their tourmates.
Though the legend that was Failure continued to burn brightly with fans, for a decade after their breakup the duo could not overcome their differences. Fortunately, the saying “time heals all wounds” appears to be true in this band’s case. Recently, Andrews and Edwards found themselves talking again as a result of a play date between their young children. “Coming back now, it’s about the music and there’s nothing really getting in the way,” confessed Andrews.
After a discussion on whether to keep it simple with a reunion show and a mini-tour, Edwards and Andrews opted to go one step further and begin the writing and recording process. “We got to thinking that a lot of our fans, became our fans recently and a lot of them are younger and they never saw us play live so we have an opportunity to pick up where we left off, musically,” Andrews said.
After a few practice sessions with original drummer Kellii Scott, Edwards said of their performance, “In ways, I think it’s stronger than it ever was.” Admittedly a little too close for a completely unbiased view, Andrews thinks they’re playing some of the old stuff better than they did in the ‘90s.
Failure will reunite for their first show in almost 16 years, tonight (Feb 13) at Los Angeles’ intimate El Rey Theatre.