Disc one:
  1/  Miracle Of Love                            (Gira)                        6.25
  2/  Black Eyed Dog                             (Drake)                       3.59
  3/  The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed          (Gira)                        5.09
                 by the Sea
  4/  (-)                                        (Gira)                        2.07
  5/  I Remember Who You Are                     (Gira)                        4.24
  6/  Her                                        (Gira)                        5.23
  7/  No Cruel Angel                             (Gira)                        4.28
  8/  When She Breathes                          (Gira)                        4.31
  9/  Why Are We Alive?                          (Gira)                        6.05
  10/ The Childís Right                          (Gira)                        3.35
  11/ (-)                                        (Gira)                        1.03
  12/ The Other Side Of The World                (Gira)                        4.39
  13/ Song For Dead Time - mg version            (Gira)                        4.34
  14/ Love Will Save You                         (Gira)                        6.05
  15/ Blind                                      (Gira)                        4.31
  16/ Unfortunate Lie - instrumental version     (Gira)                        2.20
  17/ Was He Ever Alive?                         (Gira)                        6.25
 Disc two :
  1/  Failure                                    (Gira)                        6.19
  2/  Identity                                   (Gira)                        5.35
  3/  Canít Find My Way Home                     (Winwood)                     4.48
  4/  Trust Me                                   (Gira,Westerberg,Jarboe)      4.19
  5/  Better Than You                            (Gira)                        5.58
  6/  Love Will Tear Us Apart - j.version        (Joy Division)                3.44
  7/  Will We Survive?                           (Gira)                        5.56
  8/  Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes           (Traditional)                 1.17
  9/  God Damn The Sun                           (Gira)                        4.21
  10/ Eyes Of Nature                             (Gira)                        4.40
  11/ You Know Everything                        (Gira)                        4.28
  12/ Song For Dead Time - j. version            (Gira)                        4.59
  13/ Picture Of Maryanne                        (Gira)                        4.22
  14/ Amnesia                                    (Gira)                        3.42
  15/ Dream Dream                                (Gira)                        5.32
  16/ Please Remember Me                         (Gira)                        4.48
  17/ New Mind - acoustic                        (Gira,NW,Kizys,Parsons)       3.26
          Disc one, tracks 5 and 13 & disc two, tracks 3 and 9 recorded at Platinum
            Island, New York and B.C. Studio, Brooklyn, New York
          Produced by Michael Gira
          Disc one, tracks 5 and 13 & disc two, tracks 3 and 9 produced by Bill
            Laswell/Michael Gira
          Disc two, track 4 produced by Mosimann/Gira 
          All material remastered 1988 by M. Gira
(Disc one, tracks 5 and 13 & disc two, tracks 3 and 9): Michael Gira: vocals, guitars; Norman Westberg: guitars; Jarboe: vocals, keyboards; Bill Laswell: bass; Jason Asnes: bass; Virgil Moorefield: drums; Nicky Skopelitis: baglama, bazouki; Shankar: double violin; Fred Frith: violin; Jeff Bova: keyboards; Aiyb Dieng: percussion; Trilok Gurtu: tablas; Fred & Bernard Fowler: background vocals; Karl Berger: vibes, string arrangements; Mark Feldman: violin; Larry Packer: violin; John Kass: viola; Richard Carr: viola; Garo Yellin: cello.

          1999 - Young God Records/Fringecore (USA), YG06/Fr002 (2CD)
Note: There were two versions released under this catalog number with slightly altered tracklistings.


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."

4 stars out of 5

Ned Raggett (courtesy of the All Music Guide website)


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. If nothing else, fans of goth styled music should buy this release simply to hear Jarboe's wonderfully depressing rendition of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Joy Division nearly sounds like They Might Be Giants with their original version.

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.

John Chedsey (courtesy of the Satan Stole My Teddy Bear website)