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Various Failures

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Album Review

Given the label troubles which rendered much of Swans' late-'80s/early-'90s work out-of-print all too quickly — Gira's comments on MCA and Sky Records since that period have never been less than utterly scathing — this particular entry in the late-'90s reissue series was one of the most eagerly awaited releases by fans, though not without controversy. Rather than completely reissuing everything — Burning World, White Light, Love of Life, the World of Skin album Ten Songs From Another World, plus numerous singles and the live Omniscience — Gira compiled and fully remastered a broad-ranging (and as has often been the case with these reissues, non-chronologically ordered), two-disc distillation of what he considered to be the best moments of the period. (In many cases he selected alternate or unreleased takes, some notably better than the more familiar versions, as with Burning World's "God Damn the Sun," one of only two tracks taken from that troubled album; Omniscience itself is not featured at all on this collection.) There was some griping from Swan's fan base over this, but the fact is Gira's instincts were spot on; Failures pulls together all of the fantastic, often unappreciated highs from these years, resulting in something arguably better than all of the original releases put together. The band's spectral, mysterious, folk-influenced side (such as "Failure" and the World of Skin's take on Nick Drake's "Black-Eyed Dog") and the epic, film soundtrack-sounding side ("Better Than You," "The Golden Boy...") are both featured in full force, as are the many side explorations and combinations of the same. As a further welcome bonus, just about every B-side from the singles of those years appears here, including such wonders as Gira's take on "Song for Dead Time" and the acoustic version of "New Mind," along with Jarboe's truly fascinating take on "Love Will Tear Us Apart."


Formed: 1982 in New York, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '10s

Swans were born during the heyday of New York's no wave reaction to punk rock, on the Lower East Side. Led by brainchild, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Michael Gira, the group was formed after the demise of his first New York outfit, Circus Mort. Swans' first lineup consisted of Gira, guitarist Sue Hanel, and drummer Jonathan Kane. The trio played with kindred spirits Sonic Youth and did some rudimentary recordings that showcased the abrasive, percussively assaultive sonics Swans were later...
Full Bio