At first everything about The Horrors seemed wrong. The wrong hair, the wrong jeans, the wrong shoes, their preening, DIY-driven, fashion-forward look somehow managing to irk, irritate, and incense just about everyone in their path.
Signed to major label offshoot Loog Records for their debut album ‘Strange House’, the critical community gleefully hauled out the long knives and began sharpening, scenting blood amidst the indie landfill pack.
But The Horrors were never weaklings, and they were never exactly of the indie landfill brigade. Instruments and definitive article aside, the band’s debut album ‘Strange House’ didn’t sound like much else around, overhauling slime-ridden garage punk 45s to create something unholy, barbed, and intense.
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Portishead’s Geoff Barrow became involved during the tail end of this process, inviting The Horrors to perform at ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas. As the band’s major label relationship unwound itself – we can only imagine Da Suits getting into an elevator packed with these hairspray-clad, drainpipe-entwined vagabonds – the relationship deepened, just as the group itself started to shift and alter.
Contributing a Suicide cover to a Blast First series, The Horrors began introducing a version of Joy Division’s ‘No Love Lost’ into their live sets. Rhys Webb and Tom Cowan released a fantastic, oft overlooked album as Spider & The Flies, toying with vintage synths and recalling everyone from the Radiophonic Workshop to The Normal. Appropriately, it emerged on a Mute offshoot.
Entering the studio in Bath with Geoff Barrow at the controls, The Horrors fully shed their skins. ‘Primary Colours’ allows their influences to breathe, presents their record collections not as uber-hip signifiers but as a lens through which to observe and express their own experiences.
The thrilling but garbled ultra-meta mosaic of their debut is flipped on its head, and what separates The Horrors from other reference point bothering reprobates was the strength of the songwriting, the sheer textual nuance of the lyrics, and the gorgeous production, so intensely layered yet also so unobtrusively opaque.
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‘Mirror’s Image’ feels like a song coming into focus, the sound of a band discovering themselves, or a sound discovering its band. ‘Three Decades’ refines their vision of transferring the emotional possibilities of shoegaze on to the bite of garage punk, before the album truly comes into its own with ‘Who Can Say’, a stunning flashpoint that pits its purring, motorcycle engine percussive thrust against Faris Badwan’s urgent vocal.
The rare case of a modern British guitar group growing up in public, in tandem with their own audience, ‘Primary Colours’ seems to offer the inverse of their debut; where once there was idle insolence and austere arrogance there is now heart, soul, and the pang of regret. It’s apt, then, that ‘Who Can Say’ finds Faris Badwan lost amidst the noise: “I know these words, they only serve to twist the knife / But I'll try, to make them heard.”
‘New Ice Age’ is a clinical, clipped post-punk experience, before The Horrors’ patiently emerging ambitions billow out over the seven minute expanse of ‘I Only Think Of You’. ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ has this grinding, deeply physical rhythm, it’s title nabbed from the Troggs and it’s sound and ethos honed during late night sets at Rhys Webb’s Cave Club.
Exceptional title song ‘Primary Colours’ oozes into the finale, the wonderful, lengthy, exploratory Krautrock heartbreak tale ‘Sea Within A Sea’. It’s a cyclical experience, it’s billowing guitar effects set against that chasing-down-the-horizon beat, a kind of Neu! meets J Spaceman experience that thirsts towards the infinite while arresting the personal.
It’s as though The Horrors have piled influence on influence until the whole edifice begins to crack, releasing something thrillingly new in the process.
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At times beautiful and at others ugly, ‘Sea Within A Sea’ billows from shore to shore, perpetually restless in a way that so many find in their early 20s. It’s held together by this assured sense of purpose, and by Faris Badwan’s dominating vocal, so beautiful but so ugly at the same time.
Though youth may fade with boyhood's cares
New fear will catch us unawares
I know it will
So you might say
The path we share is one of danger
And of fear
Until the end
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The Horrors play 'Primary Colours' in full at London's Royal Albert Hall on May 9th.
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