Of all the titles The Posies could have chosen for their 1988 debut, Failure just doesn’t fit the bill. True, it was first released independently on cassette only to around 800 local fans in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington. Then, the following year, PopLlama Records reissued Failure on cassette, LP and CD. In 2004, Failure had a third life when Houston Party Records issued a 15th anniversary remastered version with a handful of added demos. Now, Omnivore Recordings resurrects Failure once again (on August 19) with all the Houston Party material along with yet one more previously unreleased demo and a live acoustic rendition of “Believe in Something Other (Than Yourself)” first heard on a 2000 box set. Not bad for a “failure” recorded by two teenagers in a home studio long before the days when home studios became the norm.
Many sources incorrectly credit bassist Rick Roberts and drummer Mike Musburger as the rhythm section on Failure, but they were brought on board after the record was produced for live gigs. The Posies, then and now, are singers and multi-instrumentalists Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. According to a 2007 interview with Chris Xefos, it was Auer who played drums on Failure. Both gents shared bass and guitar duties, and together they honed their trademark harmony vocals while they mixed their songs literally on old-fashioned cassette tapes. While the pair thought they were creating essentially a good demo for their work, Failure turned out to be an impressive launching pad for the duo. After all, Auer and Stringfellow went on to build quite a resume as songwriters and producers/engineers for not only The Posies, but bands like Big Star and R.E.M. (Their 1990 “Golden Blunders” was later famously covered by Ringo Starr.)
The alternative rock of Failure was clearly influenced by the singles of the pre-“Summer of Love” British Invasion, most obviously the harmonies of the high-spirited Hollies. Throughout the dozen songs of the original collection, from the jangly opener of “Blind Eyes Open” to the equally poppy closer of “What Little Remains,” acoustic guitar intros and Byrds-esque electric leads were blended with extremely melodic tenor vocals. Perhaps the standout track remains the song most fans compare with The Hollies, “I May Hate You Sometimes,” which was tapped to represent the band in Children of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Second Psychedelic Era, 1976–1995. But don’t let that title fool you either. There’s nothing psychedelic about Failure.
Yes, the sound isn’t as polished as The Posies’ later releases, but there’s much to be said for the clarity and beauty of the slick, if comparatively minimal production values. The bonus demos are mostly for completest only, although the three instrumentals, like the fun surf guitar of “Alison Hubbard,” are nifty, well, nuggets.
Judging from reviews at Amazon, the early Posies earned a devoted core of fans in the late ’80s who still revere Failure as one of their favorite teenage memories. But baby boomers who feel nostalgic about the American Top 40 of the mid-’60s should also enjoy these very familiar sounds, if not immediately recognizable songs. Appropriately, the new edition is available on both CD and on green vinyl for those who prefer that good ole format. (If you opt for the vinyl release, which includes the essential 12 songs, all the bonus tracks are available on a download card.)
So, whether or not Failure is literally part of your past or if the exuberant jingle-jangle of the bands that shaped the mold The Posies lovingly emulated is something you remember fondly, Failure is well worth a spin. On second thought, you don’t need to look back to enjoy Failure. One good reason for this reissue is that the music of the early Posies remains fresh and engaging for anyone who was ever young.
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