At the top tables of rock ‘n’ roll, somewhere between Trent Reznor’s table (Marilyn Manson sits there too) and Dave Grohl’s table (everyone wants to sit there), is the cool table of American alternative rock where they quite simply do not give a fuck. Josh Homme (QotSA) sits here, right next to Paul Banks (Interpol) and Maynard James Keenan (Tool), and between them, they represent the music as art end of alt-rock where they do not compromise and people respect them for their vision, talent and resulting commercial success. When the guys from Failure walk in, the heavyweights of the American rock scene stand up and pull out chairs, because this is where Failure belongs, in the top echelons of alternative rock. Okay, so in terms of commercial success Failure is, well, a failure, though this is probably more as a result of the promotion/distribution problems that often occur when you’re signed to an indie label backed by a major, but in terms of critical acclaim they are a resounding success and from ‘The Heart is a Monster’, it’s not hard to see why.
This is the band’s first album in nearly 20 years, having split after ‘Fantastic Planet’ as a result of the stresses and strains of the aforementioned problems, but all have been busy in their individual music careers in the interim, honing their respective talents. Having reconvened for a handful of sell-out shows and a short tour with Tool, they finally gave in to fan pressure to have another crack of the whip and make a follow up to ‘Fantastic Planet’. In fact, ‘The Heart is a Monster’ picks up right where ‘FP’ left off all those years ago, the opening track being ‘Segue 4’ (Segues 1 to 3 are on ‘FP’), one of those atmospheric soundscapes which serve to link tracks together.
The real opener, however, is the superb ‘Hot Traveler’, boasting angular guitar lines, heavy bass and a great hook, and right from the start I am hooked. Like most of their songs, it weighs in at around the five-minute mark and is full of twists and turns and time changes before building to an emphatic climax. What follows is no less accomplished; there is so much happening on this record that it borders on overwhelming. There’s the haunted fairytale spookiness of ‘Snow Angel’, the grunge-tinged ‘A.M. Amnesia’ in which Greg Edwards shows off his vocal range on lines like “you don’t get to brag about your drowning”, and the bass-fuelled light and dark guitar histrionics of ‘Atom City Queen’ – this is American alternative rock at its hookiest best.
To be honest, ‘THIAM’ is an enormous beast of a record requiring repeated listening; it’s over an hour long and is bordering on incredible. It is a beautifully-produced atmospheric work full of (not so) hidden pleasures like ‘Mulholland Dr’, a piano “ballad” with echoes of Pink Floyd to the melody, the intense ‘Come Crashing’ or the rocky ‘The Focus, with its time changes and breathy midsection which then rides a pulsating bass line and machine gun guitars to the finish line. Not to mention the sinister sounding atmospherics of the wonderfully titled ‘Petting the Carpet’ or ‘I Can See Houses’, which is six and a half minutes of deep enveloping darkness.
My only (very slight) reservation would be that with six segues and twelve full songs it is maybe a little overweight, some of the tracks are already quite intensely claustrophobic, so perhaps a couple of songs could have been held back for B-sides or bonus material.
Nevertheless, on the whole, this is a richly atmospheric bass-heavy record which is stacked with soaring guitar lines, angular histrionics and treble rich dirty sounding riffs; every aspect of quality alternative rock is on this pulsating display of artistic finesse. It’s a measured, mature work of quite staggering depth that any artist would be proud of and deserves to achieve the status of a classic; if ever there were an advert for why music should be paid for, this is it.
‘The Heart is a Monster’ by Failure is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.
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Words by Edward Layland (@EdwardLayland)