Album Review: Failure - Fantastic Planet Live
I don’t think I’ve witnessed a successfully executed Kickstarter or Pledge Music campaign.
The first one I participated in was in 2012, when the reclusive and eccentric Cody Chesnutt was crowdsourcing for his sophomore album, Landing on A Hundred. Slated for an October release, a series of setbacks (Hurricane Sandy was blamed at one point) pushed the physical release of the album into January 2013.
In 2015, the Deftones side project Team Sleep launched a campaign for the release of its live album, The Woodstock Sessions; a campaign botched from the word go, with many fans assuming they were receiving the live album and their funding going toward the recording of a new Team Sleep record (this was not the case), and the album itself showing up in iTunes before those who had pledged received notification it was available to download.
Reuniting at the start of 2014, the group Failure has used the Pledge Music platform to some marginal success, but there is still a disconnect somewhere between the fans throwing out their money and the artist offering something in return. The band used the service to release its fourth album, 2015’s The Heart is A Monster, and have used it again for the release of a limited edition live album that commemorates last year’s 20th anniversary performances of their seminal album, Fantastic Planet. The live recording’s mixing and mastering was recently completed and released as a download for those who pledged; the release date for the CD and vinyl editions are still TBA.
The idea of “shutting up and playing the hits” isn’t enough to get people out of their houses to see you live in concert anymore. No, you have to play your classic album “from start to finish,” preferably if it is an album that is celebrating a milestone anniversary. Visiting select cities in the latter half of 2016 (Minneapolis not being one of them) Failure recorded each show during the tour, and have spent the last couple of months laboring over which version of each song in the album’s sequencing to include in the live iteration.
The result is a relatively cohesive mix that both streamlines the original album’s incredibly dense and layered sounds, as well as beefs them up due to the band’s enormous sounding live presence. Throughout, it’s impressive to think that it is just three people on stage making all of it happen.
In his post-Failure career, the band’s defacto frontman Ken Andrews, became an in demand producer and engineer, so the album sounds like a million bucks. Every snare hit of Kellii Scott’s drum kit packs a tight punch, guitarist Greg Edward’s feedback laden solos roar above everything else, and Andrews’ own fuzzed out bass strums snarl in the low corners of the mix.
However, that million-dollar sound also detracts slightly from the ramshackle, unhinged, and raw urgency with which the original album was recorded twenty years ago—this is most noticeable with Scott’s percussion; before, it sounded like it was on the verge of destroying his kit. Here, it’s still impressive, but perhaps because of the live recording, it just has a “big rock” sound instead of someone pummeling a drumhead like their life depended on it.
One way to look at is as Fantastic Planet growing up—getting sober, being twenty years older, but still willing to wax nostalgic about the past.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” Andrews deadpans after the final notes of “Saturday Savior” ring out. “And welcome to Fantastic Planet.” His comment is, of course, met with cheers of approval from the audience. And that’s the thing with a live album, isn’t it? It’s just a service to the fans—especially a project like this one, even though the fans are the ones funding it.
I understand you need the crowd noise after each song—it would be tough (and possibly weird) to pull off a live album without it. One thing that struck me as odd while listening to Fantastic Planet Live is that, even though the audiences are aware the band is playing the album from start to finish, they still seem surprised when the next song begins, as if they didn’t know what was coming next. They still cheer and applaud, as if to say, “OH SHIT THEY ARE PLAYING THIS SONG.”
With that, also, come the obligatory sounds of the crowd attempting to sing along. “Say hello,” some jabroni in the audience yells at Andrews before he utters the first line to “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” Andrews’ retort is to encourage everyone to participate, and at one point with a key lyric, steps away from the microphone—allowing a bunch of off key yelling from the first few rows take over for him.
Andrews’ voice has aged twenty years, so it’s a little bit lower in range; the well structured guitar chaos that Edwards probably labored over in the studio twenty years ago is a bit hit-or-miss in a live setting, which is to be expected I suppose. His attempts at the theatrics from “Pitiful” never really take off the way they did on the recording.
But I guess if you want to hear it the way it sounds on the record, then listen to the record. I shouldn’t expect that kind of precision from a live recording.
Also, “Leo” and “Pillowhead” are still the two least essential songs of the bunch. They always have been.
I’m doing a lot of nit picking here, yes, but overall, Fantastic Planet Live is an enjoyable listen, and the band still seems surprised that the album that destroyed them also found them a cult following that still worships this record, twenty years after the fact. And despite a few of my criticisms of the record, it is pretty incredible to hear the band, reunited, continuing to breath life (and presumably have fun) performing these songs.
Fantastic Planet turned twenty in August of 2016. In the early days of this blog, I had written something that talked about the band’s reunion, their first live show back together, and my history with the band—a group I’ve loved since I was a freshman in high school.
Because I had already kind of covered the bases of what I write in my standard “thinkpieces,” I was kind of at a loss on what to write about to commemorate the album’s anniversary.
Also, at this time, I was still struggling through a debilitating depression, and the idea of writing something lengthy and exhausting and personal was too much at the time.
Along with OK Computer, I credit Fantastic Planet with teaching me how to listen to music, and to experience an entire album for what it is, not just listen to the popular songs that I would hear on the radio or on MTV. It’s a CD that I’ve had to buy more than once since my original copy became too worn out. It’s something I put on a cassette to listen to on my Walkman on the bus in the mornings before school; it’s something I rocked out to (heavily) in my first car after turning 16.
It introduced me to the film with which the album takes its title from, as well as the Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky.
It’s an album about a lot of things—space madness and alienation, both literally and as a metaphor for crippling heroin addiction, dying in your sleep in a house fire, being somebody’s side bitch, an interrogation of some kind, and more. There is so much more. It’s such a rich, multi-layered record—it’s loud and cacophonic but it’s so beautiful and captures a moment in time.
Fantastic Planet Live is about extending that moment in time and making something more out of it. And once it’s over, as if I needed one, this live recording serves as a reminder of just why I like the band, and this album, in the first place.