It must be a wonderful and distressing thing for Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to have their debut album out in the world yet again. Wonderful because there is obviously demand for it, as this new edition by Omnivore Recordings is the third time Failure has been reissued. Distressing because this is the sound of two young men stumbling and slipping forward as they find their collective feet as songwriters, producers and players.
There’s no mistaking that these two Bellingham, Washington natives had talent to burn when they cobbled together their first collection of songs on Auer’s home studio back in 1987. They had obviously spent a lot of time poring over pop albums from the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s, using those templates to help craft tunes of Hollies-like whimsy (“Ironing Tuesdays”), throat-straining pleas a la Chris Bell (“Blind Eyes Open”), and New Wave jangle (“Believe In Something Other (Than Yourself)”).
But there’s also no mistaking the fact that this is the product of some overconfident young men. They didn’t trust these tunes in the hands of any other players or producers, so they recorded everything themselves—a bold move, but it’s one that reveals some serious flaws throughout. The instrumental parts tend to be far busier than necessary, and neither Auer nor Stringfellow are natural drummers, so fills rush ahead or land just a half step behind the one. The Posies also had yet to find their lyrical stride, relying too heavily on mildly clever wordplay and sentiments that just sound strange coming from a kid barely out of his teens (“I’ve spent half of my life in this godawful place/and I daresay I’ve only grown older”).
The bonus tracks included here—a live tune and a lot of demos—don’t really offer up anything illuminating either. If anything, the often-stripped down takes on “Like Me Too” and “Paint Me” actually come off better than the finished versions. Probably not what The Posies or Omnivore were hoping for with this release, but that’s the danger of these archival releases.
What this new reissue does provide is a bit of added depth to the history of the long-running power pop band, and makes their follow-up album Dear 23 sound even stronger in comparison. The artistic leaps and bounds that they made in only two years following Failure’s release is quite remarkable. If it took them making this album to get to that one and Frosting on the Beater and beyond, I’ll gladly take the occasional rhythm misstep and groan-inducing lyric.