This music is culled from the period when Swans were in the midst of a major transition from sonic onslaught to actual songwriting (really begun with Children of God, but continued here). There were several releases in this vein, and I took the songs I thought best and compiled them into this double album collection.
I’m ambivalent about much of it, but then what do I know???? Some if it is genuinely good I think. Anyway, I was learning (how to write a song) as I went.
Many people seem to like this material, and I’m obviously (even now) incapable of being objective, so listen to some song samples and make your own choice. It is the best selling of the Swans reissues, if that means anything to you. The artwork is rather fetching if I may say so, by the esteemed Deryk Thomas. I love his work - a cross between Disney and Francis Bacon, Bosch and Turner. Seek him out on thee internet thing!
– Michael Gira/Young God Records 2008
This two-CD set collects the best of material previously released on Swans "The Burning World" album and its various singles (1989), the World of Skin album "10 Songs For Another World" (1990), "White Light From the Mouth of Infinity" (1990/1), and the "Love of Life" album and its various singles (1992). All these items are out of print, and this double CD set is the most sought-after release in the Swans' series of reissues/compilations.
1 Miracle of Love
2 Black Eyed Dog
3 The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed by the Sea
5 I Remember Who You Are
7 No Cruel Angel
8 When She Breathes
9 Why Are We Alive?
10 The Child's Right
12 The Other Side of the World
13 Song for Dead Time [Mg Version]
14 Love Will Save You
16 Unfortunate Lie [Instrumental Version]
17 Was He Ever Alive?
20 The Sound Of Freedom
21 Trust Me
22 Better Than You
24 Will We Survive?
25 Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes
26 God Damn the Sun
27 Eyes of Nature
28 You Know Everything
29 Song for Dead Time [J. Version]
30 Picture of Maryanne
32 Dream Dream
33 Please Remember Me
All Music Guide
Review by Ned Raggett
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."
From SSMT.com 2003
Review by John Chedsey
Review date: 06/2003
In the latter half of the 90s, Swans' material saw a rebirth in the form of an extensive series of reissues via Young God Records, band leader Michael Gira's own label. Packing an incredible amount of material into two-disc sets, these reissued missives are a treasure trove of material that revitalize one of America's most impressive bands. Of these reissues, none may be more impressive than Various Failures 1988-1992. During this period of time, Swans released a handful of albums that have since fallen out of print and become rather expensive collector's items. But rather than reissue these albums for whatever reason, Gira chose to personally sum up the time period on these two discs. Considering the two albums have a total running time over one hundred and fifty minutes, Various Failures is an extensive time capsule that almost fully captures this era of Swans.
By 1988, Swans had begun their transformation from a dense, massive wall of sound that crushed feeble listeners into a squishy paste into a considerably more delicate and somber sound. Basing the songs on introspective lyrics, echoing acoustics and production and an entirely pensive mindframe, the songs on Various Failures are an extensive journey that will take nearly any listener through the entire gamut of emotions. Since these thirty four songs are so sprawling and full, digesting this two CD set requires quite a few dedicated listens. Once one has worked his or her way past the daunting nature of the music, Various Failures becomes the type of album that will never leave your stereo for days. Between Gira's haunting baritone voice and Jarboe's rather unusual range of voices and approaches, the CDs cover emotional ground like the IRS inspecting your tax return for a reason to audit. Unlike early material, there is little bombast, except in the emotional impact. Gira's tone often sets a very despondent mood, yet at the same time the backing music can be incredibly uplifting and intense. So many songs become highlights that both CDs are practically one major highlight. Gira must be commended for scouring his music from that era to create a two CD package that flows as one complete release, rather than a hodge-podge compilation.
Despite the fact that some Swans fans felt the selection of songs could have been different, Various Failures is an incredible retrospect of a very creative and rich period in Swans history. It is the type of CD that can turn a casual fan into a deep believer and force listeners into an Ebay addiction to find the original out of print albums where this music was derived. Although it may take quite a bit of time to fully get one's head around due to the length and amount of music, this CD set is by far one of the most impressive releases for Swans.