Sunday, May 3

REVIEW. The Horrors - Primary Colours


I was going to set myself the challenge of reviewing the new Horrors record without namedropping any other bands, but after a number of attempts I gave up – for anyone even vaguely familiar with the band’s reference points, it’s practically impossible to listen to more than a few seconds of anything they’ve done without a ‘hey, that’s a bit like…’ moment. On the other hand, despite the rubbishing their debut album Strange House got both at the time and in the first reviews of the new album, it's worth bearing in mind that its best bits managed to lift it off the well-trodden Sonics/Cramps/Birthday Party path and transcend the obvious influences to create something which hinted at an original musical vision.

This basic approach has been repeated with the new album, Primary Colours, except that the obvious touchpoints have diversified and time-shifted, and now range from Kraftwerk and Neu! to Joy Division and The Chameleons to My Bloody Valentine and The Stone Roses. In fact, The Horrors seem to go out of their way on Primary Colours (never mind the new-boots-and-haircuts approach which has seen them tone down the more Mighty Boosh side of their public image) to challenge the sometimes justified preconceptions about their music. The title and cover are invitations to psychedelic synaesthesia which contrast the monochromatic look of their debut, and Faris Badwan’s lyrics are prominently different, focusing on doomed romance rather than the abstract blood-soaked imagery of Strange House and even setting a direct challenge on ‘Sea Within a Sea’: ‘will your dreams stay rooted in the shallow?’.

There’s also an electronic element, which won’t surprise anyone who’s kept up with the band’s forays into everything from Throbbing Gristle to acid house – the switch from Rhys Webb’s screeching organ to the range of analogue synthesizers deployed by Tom Cowan on Primary Colours seems to have facilitated the band’s liberation from their garage rock roots, and they make the point by starting the album with an ambient electronic throb before opening track ‘Mirror’s Image’ takes off with a glide guitar sweep, and, forty-five minutes later, ending the last bars of ‘Sea Within a Sea’ with a fade into pointillist Kraftwerk arpeggios.

Apart from the new synthesizers, the predominant changes are as that Joshua Hayward’s guitar has been possessed by the spirit of Kevin Shields, and Badwan now sings a lot more than he screams – in fact, there’s an emphasis on melody throughout which seemed almost totally lacking on Strange House. Forthcoming single ‘Who Can Say’ and ‘Do You Remember’ are particularly memorable, with the latter propelled by a Charlatans-style backbeat. There’s a tendency throughout to favour instrumental hooks over vocal choruses, which is mostly very effective – in fact ‘New Ice Age’ suffers for its dominating chorus by sounding far too similar to the old material. Apart from this, the weak points are fairly few: ‘I Only Think Of You’ takes My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Slow’ a little too seriously and outstays its welcome by a good four minutes, while ‘Primary Colours’ comes across as just a bit dull, a harmless Interpol-style ditty between the evocative lurch of ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ and the genre-bending ‘Sea Within a Sea’.

Allowing for these few slight misfires, though, Primary Colours is an excellent lesson in record-collection rock done right. Just as Strange House was garage-but-not-quite-garage, but better than that because of its diversity, this is a skilful pastiche which can’t be easily categorised, presenting a clearer vision of musical intention than the debut while also being a much more enjoyable listen. With over five decades of rock’n’roll’s descendants now readily available via the technological revolution, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for any band to maintain a separation from their influences. Primary Colours is an ideal guidebook on how to embrace those influences not for the sake of musical splicing but to make something new and exciting out of them.


Anonymous said...

Great review. Describes what I think a lot of people are thinking on first hearing of the new album.

I was really looking forward to the new release but have been left a little disappointent, especially after all the hype from people like the NME, the Manics etc.

In an interview on The Quietus, Nicky Wire compared it to their Holy Bible period, saying the band has shut themselves off in the studio, away from all the influences circulating around at the moment. I personally see it as the actual opposite.

Though every great band has their influences on their sleeve, this time it just doesnt feel like its been brought together to form something instinctive/coherent. I enjoyed listening to it but because my mind was drifting to Neu! or MBV et al. Not because the Horrors were offering something new. That may just sound like a snobby remark of someone who likes to name drop bands from the past to impress friends, but i reckon many people feel the same.

I also prefer Faris' new singing style that crops up on a number of tracks.

But as a whole it almost feels more like a very well currated compilation/mixtape than a young band redefining their musical identity. All the right ingredients but no real sense of ownership over what is delivered.

Im looking forward to seeing how it is translated to the stage though this summer.

Anonymous said...

Very good review. Having listened to the album only a couple of times I think it can sadly be summed up by style over substance. They are young and learning but I dont think this is any excuse. I unfortunately wont take the chance of booking a ticket for one of their shows as I saw a lot of their infuences the first time around in the 80's. Saying that, their support act is close to my age so maybe i will for nostalgia say!

Si Simpson said...

Agree with the aboth comments that the review of the album was a good read.
As most of you i have been following "The Horrors" since way before the first album "Strange House" was released catching them on tour a few times.Was a massive fan of the first record & still listen to it to this day but the second album " Primary colours " is amazing! when i first heard "sea within a sea" i couldnt help but get a shiver down my neck with the sound moving towards a euphoric even abit progressive sound but still keeping a dark edge to the production.
After picking up the album on Monday ive had a few listens and as a "Horrors" fan im pretty maid up with it!
At first i wasnt sure if they would be able too create the same sounds & keep the production as tight when playing the new tracks live, but caught the end of the "COACHELLA" gig last night on "YOUTUBE" search "Horrors 2009" the video is 5:40minutes long and the finish of the set "Sea within a Sea" sounds amzing live!

Really looking forward to the UK tour in June & OFFSET in September.

vodka ed said...

i was at that coachella performance and the sound was fantastic. the live sound is very close to how it sounds recorded. unfortunately, their attitude at this particular show was awful. seems the band were pissed off since the tent they played in was pretty much empty basically because they were playing against my bloody valentine @ the main stage. (and to tell you the truth, if i hadn't already seen MBV last year in SF i would have missed them too.)

Brandon G. said...

Excellent album, I don't mean to be critical of your review (well I am no offence haha) but Primary Colours and New Ice Age are actually my favorite songs, they add to the drama and psychadelia of the whole album. A New Thing classic! And just as amazing as Strange House, but directed in a different direction.

And I'm seeing them for the second time ever in a week!!!!!