I love the idea of artists reviewing artists. The Revelator recognized me at a Failure show in Nashville and instead of approaching me to write a show review, he asked that I review their new record, “The Heart is a Monster.” As a first generation grunge-rocker, I proceeded with reverence.
Failure are not one of those 90‘s nostalgia acts that have come back to cash-in on the grown-up wallets of their suburbanized fan-base. Greg Edwards and Ken Andrews, the song-writing duo behind the band, reunited organically and went into the studio just to see what would happen. It quickly became clear to them that another Failure record was not only possible, but inevitable.
After years of silence, a black hole opens up and out of it spins “The Heart is a Monster.” Passing through the rip in time and space, Failure pick up the story of disillusionment right where they left off, back from a fantastic journey and continuing to impart the findings of their exploration to a new generation.
Unlike most “comeback” records which fall flat in substance and sound, The Heart snarls with the darkness early fans crave while taking flight with a modern sparkle and true accessibility. It feels as honest as its critically acclaimed predecessor “Fantastic Planet,” but takes the listener one step further on the journey from angst to enlightenment. If “Fantastic Planet” was about the demons within, “The Heart” is the story of their exile. During the years between these two records, the narrator became wiser, but the voice remains the same.
The truest way to experience this record would be to see it performed live by Failure. Having had the pleasure of seeing the band three times during their “reboot,” I’d count them among the best-sounding live acts in rock ‘n’ roll. Since they didn’t play the record in its entirety, I settled for the second best exposure which came in the form of two beautifully packaged audiophile-grade vinyl records.
I lit some candles, opened a bottle of wine and spread the gatefold and lyrics out on the plush rug. As the first track, “Segue 4,” began, I immediately got the impression that, as the artwork and track listing indicated, I was about to be transported back to the future.
There is a sound that is distinctly Failure. It is dreamy, with open space, frantic, tempered with tension and pain, lined with silver, shimmering, experimental in nature, yet never out of arm’s reach of an undeniable hook. Billy Howerdell of A Perfect Circle and Ashes Divide said of the sound, “There is a catchiness to the songs, but it never quite goes to the place where you can hate it.” As “Seque 4” urgently builds into “Hot Traveler,” the tension erupts with the first rock track of the record, and it is one of what Billy perfectly described as their “anti-anthems.”
“The Heart is a Monster” has plenty of them, and this anti-anthem is the perfect opener. “Hot Traveler” introduces the structural unexpectedness we’ve come to expect, the signature bass tone, the spooky melodies and Kellii Scott’s mercilessly sparse heaviness that forces the head to drop and bob, as the record moves on into “A.M. Amnesia.” Here we find more of the same, and better. The classic atmospheric guitars modernized by a decade of technology are flawless. They sparkle on top of the grind of the giant Failure gears, as the lyrics remind us how its done, “...the space goes in...the space goes out.”
There’s not a buzz-kill on the entire record. Some critics could possibly find some fat here to trim, perhaps with the more pristine version of “Petting the Carpet,” or the cautionary “Come Crashing,” but these songs are vital parts of the record’s narrative reminding you of past pain and to “trust your bones.” Some might even suggest that “Mulholland Dr,” with its departure into clear idolatry of Pink Floyd, Elton John and The Beach Boys is a bit distracting, but these songs all show the growth and bravery of a band that trusts itself and has a vision.
Besides that, for fans that waited this long, I don’t think any will complain about the extra material. Each song has its place in the saga, and Segues 4-9 guide the listener from dream to dream, dropping them gently on the last flight out--“I Can See Houses.”
There are no better themes in music than sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. One defining aspect of Failure’s lyrical content is that any given song could be about any one of the three. These songs are relatable to love, addiction, and industry frustration. To a listener who’s dealt with all of the above, it makes for an emotional and very personal experience.
“The Heart is a Monster,” along with the Petit Sirah and an evening to myself, left me extremely satisfied. As an artist, one of my most recurring concerns is, “will anyone get this?” I can imagine how gratifying it must be for Failure to step out of their time machine and into a climate where they are perfectly understood by critics and appreciated by a new generation of young rock fans.
Stand-out Tracks: Hot Traveller, Mulholland Dr., I Can See Houses
My Jams: A.M. Amnesia, Counterfeit Sky, Fair Light Era
Leticia Wolf aka Meta Dead
Meta is the lead singer/guitarist of The Dead Deads. She is a songwriter, journalist, blogger, music critic, and novelist based in Nashville, TN.