The Horrors: Strange House
You’ve seen their photos, watched the banned video, but can they pull off a whole album?
From the moment Faris Rotter’s zombie claw burst from the ancient Indian burial ground beneath the Junk Club, grasped a rusting pot of Hades Hair: Psychopathic Pomade For The Coolest Cadaver On The Slab and led his spindly squadron into the RIP
section of Club NME, opinions on The Horrors have been pretty much scythed downthe centre.
Brilliant – you might have thought – it’s like somebody killed Noel Fielding five times, reanimated the corpses, armed them with two chords, an organ and a taste for flesh, then locked them inside your average toe-tapping indie disco. Or you may have taken one look, shed a quiet tear for the sanctity of music and cut off your ears with your Spinto Band LP. But what sounds more fun – being a snob with double whammy Van Gogh wounds or, nicking your mum’s polka dot blouse, back-combing your hair and reclaiming morbidity from the Americanised emo hoards?
Devotion or no devotion though, even Horrors acolytes have been a little dubious about their transition from the dangerous kids swigging embalming fluid at the back of the hearse into a proper, full blown band-with-an-album-and-everything. The brilliance of The Horrors was that everything you ever needed to know about them you knew the moment you saw that first picture of Coffin Joe stretching his splinter limbs at your face from within the pages of NME. Could this public school fantasy survive being laid bare on an LP? The answer is: well yeah, pretty much.
There’s no denying it, ‘Strange House’ is around 4,000 times more exciting if you listen to it while staring at the album cover by candle light, but there’s no shame in that, it’s a fucking good photo. By our calculations, staring at that same dark, sexy and iconic photo would be enough to turn everlasting Guantanamo torture into cheeky sadistic horseplay. But, cool cover or not, ‘Strange House’ is a strong debut from a band who, many sceptics believed, were at their best in front of a camera rather than behind instruments.
As it turns out it wasn’t just make-up tricks they were studying through those dark nights in the catacombs. No, this gang were swatting up on the cream of avant garde ’60s weirdos Teddy & His Patches and The Driving Stupid. Psyched garage rock runs through this record like blood down a knife. ‘Gloves’ is like the Psycho shower scene reshot by eye-ball-slitting Spanish-born surrealist Luis Buñuel, and ‘Excellent Choice’ lurches in similarly violent spasms – Faris’ plum voice lost beneath his growling blood lust. “I imagined myself hacking desperately at a sea of appendages”, he intones as a generation of fluoro kids wipe glittered fingers into the mud of a grave.
Like Klaxons, Faris and co are building their own reality from the ground up. But, unlike their east London rave-mates, their world is based upon one complete, uncompromised aesthetic. All they have built would collapse around their skinny feet if, just once, Spider Webb’s ghoulish contact lenses failed to match his child-skin boots or harbinger organs. By their very nature then, this band produce exactly what you’d expect them to. If you’ve ever watched Samantha Morton’s face being eaten by aliens in Chris Cunningham’s flat on YouTube then you’ve got a great idea of what this record sounds like – otherworldly murder, and lots of it.
In an age where punk pretenders like Johnny Borrell spend years masterminding the leap from your 12-inch collection onto Tesco’s impulse rack, songs like ‘Draw Japan’ are all the more necessary. It’s a stalker’s theme – music to kill by, featuring an army of zombies on backing vocals. Frankly, it’ll scare the living shit out of all those Virgin Radio listeners who voted three minutes of Snow Patrol dross the best pop single ever. ‘Excellent Choice’ is the Velvet Underground’s art fable ‘The Gift’ rewired like Frankenstein’s monster, while ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ is still mean enough to make you spin in your grave. ‘Count In Fives’ is their greatest moment though – a riot of a garage track bounding along with drugged-up new rave energy and dragging a sack of dead babies behind it. If The Horrors were ever to cause murder on the dancefloor, this is the song that’ll do it.
This debut though, is by no means a total triumph. ‘She Is The New Thing’ plods along, while the decision to re-record their cover of Screaming Lord Sutch’s ‘Jack The Ripper’ is costly; where once it screamed like a man on fire, now it drags at a funereal pace. The real trudge though is ‘Gil Sleeping’, a whole four minutes 50 seconds of vocalless organ-grinding that’d have even The Doors blushing. Such moments are the band trying to break away from their signature sound to stamp their authority across the record, but frankly, when you’ve got fangs like bassist Tomethy Furse and a mane like guitarist Joshua Von Grimm, asserting your identity needn’t be at the top of your itinerary.
Within ‘Strange House’ though, the trying peculiarities of this band are forgivable. This is a record which doesn’t deviate an inch from the path along which The Horrors have been leading their ghoulish army of support – The Horribles. For that very reason, these are songs of slaughter that will see those beautiful freaks holding this band closer to their beatless hearts than ever.