Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow weren't old enough to buy beer (and hadn't outgrown the tragic fashion affectations of teenage Cure fans) when they created this low-budget pop masterpiece, recorded in a makeshift studio in the Auer family's home. And while it was the first salvo in what would become an enduring career in indie pop, Failure still remains one of the Posies' best and most purely enjoyable albums. Though there are brief moments while Auer and Stringfellow's inexperience betrays them, Failure is a strikingly accomplished piece of work; the instrumental work is solid, the lead vocals and harmonies are splendid, the production is crisp and imaginative (especially for an album cut by amateurs on an eight-track setup in someone's basement), and the songcraft is remarkably precocious in its skill, fusing elements of smart pop both old (Beatles, Hollies) and new (XTC, R.E.M.) as they brewed up melodies and hooks that would have been the pride of musicians twice their age. And the Posies were smart enough to know how to work within their limitations; while later albums like Dear 23 and Frosting on the Beater aimed for a grand-scale sound, Failure's songs work beautifully with these compact arrangements and efficient production, and as a consequence, this doesn't sound like Auer and Stringfellow's juvenilia, but a work with an engaging personality all its own. Failure was originally self-released on cassette by the Posies before the scrappy Northwest indie label Popllama gave it the wider hearing that it truly deserved; as homemade pop record-making goes, Failure just edges out Shoes' Black Vinyl Shoes as the masterpiece of this small but worthy field of endeavor.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming