I’ve been fairly unrestrained in expressing my abiding fandom of the commercially underachieving ‘90s rock band Failure, both in real life and on Dangerous Minds. They had everything I loved—dense and creamy distorted guitar tones, gripping tension-and-release dynamics, emotive, anxious melodic and lyrical content that FAR surpassed the one-dimensional angst typical of the period’s radio rock. The poor sales of their masterpiece Fantastic Planet contributed to the band’s end, though time has rehabilitated the album and it’s now considered an influential classic, which set the stage for Failure’s reunion last year. The announcement of that tour made me as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning, and I drove three hours to once again catch a band I utterly adored but hadn’t seen in concert since 1992.
As it happens, there was more than just a tour in the offing—Failure have fully reactivated, and their first album in 19 years, The Heart Is A Monster, will arrive next week. I’m confident that fans of Fantastic Planet will be more than satisfied—I typically take a dim view of reunions, and if Monster was in any way unsatisfactory, I’d be properly bitching up a storm about it. But no. It’s goddamn glorious. The band conceived Monster as a continuation of Planet, and even picked up the numbering of its interstitial segues from where the prior album left off. I’ll not subject you to lengthy gushing, it’s streaming in its entirety on Entertainment Weekly’s web site if you want to judge for yourself. I recommend listening from beginning to end in a sitting if you can swing the time. (I should add that they’re on tour now, and later in the summer they’re doing dates with another neglected ‘90s favorite of mine, Hum, about which I’m kinda headsploding.)
One of Failure’s most illuminating, and just flat out most fun albums wasn’t even a Failure album, but a 1995 time-killer project. Waiting for Fantastic Planet to be released and unable to tour, Failure prime movers Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards teamed up with ex-Tool bassist Paul D’Amour and keyboardist Chris Pitman (Tool, Blinker the Star, and I shit you not Guns N’ Roses) to record a superb album of transformative ‘70s and ‘80s cover songs under the name Replicants, a winking Blade Runner reference. What could have just been a goof turned out as an extremely strong work in its own right, and their eponymous album is not just my favorite covers album, it’s been one of my favorite albums period for 20 years.
A contemporary article in the UCLA Daily Bruin of all places provided a look at the band’s formation and intent:
Ken Andrews, lead singer of the Replicants, has been stuck in a “Warehousy loft-type space” for about a year. Tired of the white-walled complex and its “big air conditioning ducts,” he wants to be out and on the road. But the tortured musician must continue mixing and producing in his “utilitarian” studio.
“I’m really sick of it. I really want to play live now,” complains Andrews. However, the current band member of Failure and frontman for his side project the Replicants manages to remain laid back and positive. And with good reason. The Replicants have just released a self-titled album of covers of tunes ranging from the Beatles to the Cars. Snatching countless enthusiastic reviews, the project includes the talents of one Tool member (Paul D’Amour), one Eye In Triangle musician (Chris Pitman), and one other Failure member (Greg Edwards). And, once Andrews’ soon-to-be-released Failure album hits stores, he will be able to return to his beloved stage.
Strangely, a four-track demo tape of the haphazard group landed on a desk at Zoo Entertainment. Before they knew it, the Replicants were an official band with an offer to record an entire album of cover songs. “At that point, we had no idea what to do,” explains a baffled Andrews. “Everyone would just bring up songs and either we would all agree or we wouldn’t and I think everyone sort of got their one song that maybe other people didn’t want.” However, they could all agree on one thing: The Replicants would have their own musical freedom.
“We like doing the Replicants because we could do different versions of these songs in ways that Failure or Tool wouldn’t,” Andrews says. For instance, neither spawning ground for the creative forces of the Replicants would think to record Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown” with an industrial/techno spin. Each song was dealt with individually, following no preconceived notion of the album’s overall sound. This system provided a good musical balance for Andrews and his associates.
Some of the transformations are huge (John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”), some are closer to mere production-values updates (obligatory cover-band “Cinnamon Girl”), but pretty much every revamped tune on the CD has some kind of a tonal shift to the darker. One simple and actually sorta brilliant minor-key modulation imparts a wholly unexpected sense of dread to Replicants’ version of the Cars’ bouncy “Just What I Needed.” See if you ever unhear it.
A drastic change is affected to Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” with guest vocals from Tool’s Maynard James Keenan:
This is a criterion on which everyone’s mileage will vary, but there are covers I like on the Replicants disc of originals for which I just do NOT care. I’m resolutely not a big Steely Dan guy, but the fairly reverent take on “Dirty Work” here works for me.
Ditto for Bowie’s Hunky Dory closer “The Bewlay Brothers”, which never really grabbed me, but this sonically massive Replicants version? Nice.
I’d love to just post the whole album, but that’d be kind of a dick move, so I’ll leave you with the band’s lone official video, a warped take on Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Failure should have been really, really famous, and they’ve reunited for an extensive tour
A magazine gave every San Francisco mayoral candidate the replicant test from ‘Blade Runner’