Fifteen months in the making, the band's fourth album is almost entirely sublime
Music journalists aren’t clairvoyants, but stay in this game long enough to get cynical, and eventually you begin to fancy your ability to read from the meagre tea leaves of a debut single or a Miles Kane support slot. We like to think we’re able to tell the bands built for the long run from those who’ll implode unspectacularly, the ones who’ll someday mortgage their souls to play an arena tour from the born also-rans whose fanbase will ultimately dwindle to the inhabitants of their hometown and the surrounding metropolitan area. Of course, everyone has their blind spots. When The Horrors first arrived in 2006, looking like Tim Burton sketches come to sickly, malnourished not-quite life, I can’t have been the only one who thought they might enjoy an 18-month dominion over east London and the gothier bits of Brighton before stylishly asphyxiating on their own hairspray fumes. Such were the finite, cartoonish charms of ‘Strange House’. Eight years and a couple of kaleidoscopic masterpieces later, they’re one of the few British guitar bands worth giving a damn about. Colour me completely off the mark.
And so to ‘Luminous’, their fourth album, and one which has truly earned its ‘long-awaited’ epithet. ‘Luminous’ arrives after 15 delay-stricken months in the studio, a gestation period on a par with that of a baby giraffe, and admittedly, it sounds like something that took an age to make: opener ’Chasing Shadows’ takes three leisurely minutes of synth-frippery to finally get going, while ‘Jealous Sun’, with its whale-in-distress mewls of guitar, quite clearly takes its cues from those old masters of procrastination, My Bloody Valentine. Which isn’t to say that ‘Luminous’ is any sort of slog to get through; in terms of length, it’s actually a few minutes shorter than ‘Skying’. Everything just feels somehow larger.
For all the professorial talk of pyramid synths, Detroit techno and making the studio “feel like an extension of yourself” (whatever that means), it feels warmer, too, less aloof and inscrutable than previous outings. “I fall in, far as I can go”, sings Faris on the industrial dream-pop of ‘Sleepwalk’, a phosphene-eyed marionette whose wish to become a real boy has finally been granted. ‘Change Your Mind’, meanwhile, isn’t as innocent as his winsome croon makes it sound: the song seems to find him dithering on the cusp of some ill-advised liasion, hoping to be talked out of doing something stupid (“Please keep away from me/You know that it only takes one of us”). For a band who tend to deal in abstractions, there are parts of ‘Luminous’ that sound positively unguarded.
Almost every part of it sounds sublime, though. ‘Mine And Yours’ and ‘So Now You Know’ pick up the Simple Minds thread of ‘Still Life’ and gambol off into the middle distance with it, while the dancier ‘In And Out Of Sight’ assimilates a myriad of electronic textures into something that still manages to sound recognisably Horrific. Only ‘Falling Star’, hamstrung by a structural orthodoxy all the effects pedals in the world can’t make interesting, feels undercooked – indeed, it seems strange that an album which took this long to complete could contain something that sounds so tacked on. Still, mistakes are there to be learned from, and in The Horrors’ case, you don’t doubt they will. “I can see your future/All the things you might do, all the things you’d like to”, sings Faris on the future-psychedelic sprawl of ‘I See You’. Four albums in, their own future remains tantalisingly unwritten.