The Horrors - Primary Colours
Michael James Hall 13/04/2009
If you are among the select few with a remaining semblance of musical sanity you will have found The Horrors emergence in 2006 something of a depressing joke. With an NME and fashionista fanfare this group of what could only be perceived as Hoxton haircut chancers had their brief moment in the sun with their theatrical, borderline ridiculous take on The Damned or, if you were feeling generous, The Sonics or The Birthday Party.
They singularly failed to translate the hype into sales or even the look into songs and no-one would blame you if you envisioned them locked into an eternal loop of guest DJ slots at overpriced indie bars and occasional appearances in the 'Where Are They Now?' files.
Sometimes people surprise you.
Yes, sometimes people with names as cringe-inducing as Farris Rotter (latterly Badwan) and Spider Webb actually overcome their inherent ridiculous and create something of…look, it's hard to say but here goes…create something of rare, disarming beauty.
With their heads in a krautrock cloud these former pantomime villains churn and echo their way through ten tracks of disturbing, sometimes atonal, always excellent drone-rock.
The influence of The Birthday Party is still prevalent on the twisting underground stir of 'I Only Think Of You' with it's simple, pitch black message of devotion and a purposely obtuse chorus bassline that cracks through the skull just a little more on each hearing.
This time though it's not the amateur dramatics of goth-shock-rock that are accentuated, rather a genuine, despairing bleakness expressed through vibrant, insistent repetition, searing, jerking keys and crashing, collapsing guitar.
As for the band's figurehead, Mr Rotter / Badwan himself, he seems to have found a voice that cuts through the sonic collage perfectly, also knowing when to allow his words to be lost in the soundscape - a crooning, keening, often monotone half-sigh that recalls without imitation that sacred cow of musical despair, Ian Curtis.
It's on repeated listen that the textures of the album reveal themselves; 'Who Can Say?' has us believe that the Psychadelic Furs are a going concern - all post-punk snarl, trance-like squall and, wonderfully, a baseball bleachers twist of glorious organ;
'New Ice Age', the most hypnotic piece on offer here (which is some feat considering that mesmerism is this record's stock in trade) is delicate but somehow brutish waving dance that veers close to nausea before thundering back to vitality.
Final track and lead single 'Sea Within A Sea' is, without mitigation, a sudden and unexpected modern classic, stretching pop into prog, prog into punk and whole eight minutes into a mildly transcendental experience.
With retrospect then, we can see what The Horrors were attempting but failing to achieve in their earlier work: scary garage rock weighted with intellect, style and vision. Against the odds they achieve this here, and much more besides.
Where has this all come from? What on earth does it mean? At the least it's a tremendous negation of the idea that you only get one chance to make a first impression; when was the last time you heard a second album by a band that was at minimum ten times better than their debut?
It's hard to imagine what has altered this creepy gang in such a positive, brave fashion (one can only imagine the influence of Portishead man Geoff Barrow on production duties had a large hand in the direction taken) but really it's irrelevant.
From the Shangri-la's breakdown of the aforementioned 'Who Can Say?' to the final euphoric beats of the album this is a stunning, wonderful and tremendously exhilarating record.
It really doesn't matter now what the NME says, what their haircuts look like, how daft their pseudonyms. When you've created a modern classic all that matters is the music.
Leave your preconceptions at the door.