At first sight, you could easily have dismissed The Horrors as haircuts, scenesters, talentless art-school chancers. Sure, after listening to the brilliant, bilious racket of their debut ‘Strange House’, you might have struggled a bit more. But you’d still have managed it.
Then a mysterious, online countdown appears. As it ticks to a close, an ominous, seductive, gothic, motorik thrum begins. Red, green and blue lights flash across skinny, mop-haired figures on a bare stage. A voice intones “Some say, we walk alone…”. And just like that, the eldritch enfants terribles are born again as something new, strange and quite wonderful.
But shocking as their metamorphosis has been, uniting longtime fans and former sworn haters across the NME office, it’s not as revolutionary as might first appear. The Horrors’ transition, Wizard Of Oz-style, from grim monochrome into scintillating rainbows of sound is rooted in their love of psychedelia, in the original, old-school sense of the word. As an expression of the LSD experience, the unsettling music and art that emerged in the ’60s reflected the nightmarish ego destructions as well as the delirious highs of having your mind poisoned. The Horrors’ well-schooled, deliberate evolution into psychedelia feels so very right, not a hokey ‘new direction’ but more of a growth of their black tendrils into an expansive genre where they can darkly flower. And boy have they flourished under the tutelage of the master of soul-scaring sonics, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow.
Their second blooming begins with a pulsing beat and neon synth patterns, out of which, awesome in its size, comes a screaming wash of guitars. ‘Mirror’s Image’ is essentially My Bloody Valentine in sharper focus, a wall of heavy distortion cut through with melody, into which Faris wails “Is it the way… is it the way she looks at you?”
The cartoony affectations of ‘Strange House’ are replaced by atmospherics, the changed rhythm section of Rhys Webb and Joe Spurgeon brooding beneath Josh Third’s aching guitar and Tom Furse’s melancholic keyboard hooks. It’s a captivating new sound, which shifts into overdrive for the following ‘Three Decades’, an exhilarating krautrock ride across The Cure’s doomy landscape.
It’s not, as the brave decision to release the epic motorik thrum of ‘Sea Within A Sea’ as the lead single might have suggested, all widescreen and soundscape, though. There’s also breathtaking thrills, as with ‘Who Can Say’’s almighty buzz raving up The Jesus And Mary Chain. When the instruments drop away, and Faris states the Shangri-Las referencing line “When I told her I didn’t love her any more… she cried” it also marks the first time that emotion has made it into The Horrors’ work. Even this early on in the album it’s apparent this is a band who’ve found themselves, and to whom everything is now coming effortlessly. Sure, their influences are there for all to see, but whereas on ‘Strange House’ the fanboy references verged on pastiche, here it all feels natural, real, fresh. ‘Do You Remember’ is a pure rush reminiscent of MBV’s ‘Soon’ and benefits, like much of the album, from Faris having dropped his often goonish sub-Birthday Party lyrics, in favour of lovelorn, dream-logic imagery like “I will be with you soon,
I will cross the ocean blue”. ‘Scarlet Fields’ glides like Neu!, with Third’s shimmering guitar counterpointing Furse’s keyboard hooks to spellbinding effect. They go even slower with the drone ballad ‘I Only Think Of You’, which in Spacemen 3’s hands would’ve been about a junk fix but here is simply, sweetly, about a girl. Restraint and maturity covered, we’re drawn inexorably back to sensual racket with ‘I Can’t Control Myself’. Its blatant steal from Spiritualized’s superior ‘Come Together’ makes it the most unsatisfactory thing here, but it’s followed by perhaps the most perfect; ‘Primary Colours’ is a powerful pop song in which Faris reveals a surprisingly rich baritone for a beautifully mysterious lyric which takes it into the realm of the masters, Echo And The Bunnymen. The album ends with the song that first signified The Horrors’ reinvention, ‘Sea Within A Sea’. Here it works as ‘I Am The Resurrection’ does on ‘The Stone Roses’, allowing the acid house elements to come to the fore in a bravado demonstration of what the band are capable of.
For us listeners, it’s a relief to hear a band growing so impressively at a time when most others have neither the talent nor the opportunity to do so. Time will tell how ‘Primary Colours’ stands up to the likes of ‘Loveless’ or ‘Psychocandy’, but right now, this feels like the British art-rock album we’ve all been waiting for.