Review: Primary Colours (The Horrors)

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Photo courtesy of Flickr and rollinga

What’s the auditory version of rubbing your eyes in disbelief? How do you react when confronted with a sound so impossibly unlikely you need to check your own ears aren’t deceiving you? What’s the appropriate course of action when you hear something so surprising, so remarkable, and just so damn good you can’t believe it’s true?

There may not be a name for that reaction, but it’s what everyone from The Quietus to Henry Rollins and the Manics to Kevin Shields have been doing since the arrival of Primary Colours the second album from The Horrors. The record so good that most people refused to believe that it was made by the same band whose previous notable achievements were mingling with D-list celebrities and wearing impossibly skinny jeans; the album so fantastic that it couldn’t have come from musicians with names like Spider Webb and Joshua von Grimm. Their gothic shtick may have been entertaining, but they shared the same musical gutter as The Others and The Paddingtons. Everyone had them pegged as a joke.

Well, no-one’s laughing anymore. Non-believers, cast your doubts aside: it really is The Horrors, and it really is that good. A radical evolution, rather than revolution, of the furious but slightly tuneless and scratchy riot of their debut Strange House, Primary Colours is a brilliant goth-punk hybrid of synth-laced retro-rock which chews up the aggression of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the passion of The Cure and reckless volume of My Bloody Valentine and spits it out in one glorious ball of rock ‘n’ roll. Rather than expand their musical pallet with soft string, mellow acoustic guitars or avant-garde electronic, The Horrors have honed their craft and delivered an explosion of pure, blissful noise; fuzzy, dirty, sweet, sexy noise that should swiftly aid their transition from scenesters to contenders.

Things kick off with the slow, atmospheric build-up of ‘Mirror Image’, a seemingly soft and tentative opening which suddenly pulls the rug away and plunges you into a fantastic collision of Stone Roses-esque melodic chimes and unrestrained squalling electric guitars. It’s a perfect, unsettling start to an album that forces the listener to abandon any of their preconceptions. And contrary to previous evidence, frontman Faris Rotter can actually sing. The strained guttural scream of Strange House has matured into a deep, sonorous passionate languid drawl. “Is it the way/ Is it the way she looks at you?” he belts out, his voice dripping with a heady mixture of love, lost and intoxication. The glorious racket is replicated on the Psychedelic Furs-influenced ‘Three Decades’ with its lurching Wurlitzer guitar and the stabbing, bleeding metallic clangs of ‘Do You Remember’ which sounds like Joy Division jacked up on Edger Allen Poe.

But Primary Colours isn’t just about short, sharp bursts of aggression. ‘I Only Think Of You’ is a seven minute ode to lost love with a wonderful hazy, druggy melody and a gorgeous red-eyed vocal from Rotter that chews over every bitter syllable that mourns the ruins of a broken love affair, while ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is a layered eight-minute epic that grows and grows until climaxing with spiky, spiralling keyboards that slowly fade out to close the album. There’s a dark strain of romanticism on display that was never hinted at on Strange House, most aptly illustrated by ‘Who Can Say’, in which Rotter tries to assuage his guilt at deserting his lover, pleading that “I never meant for you to get hurt / Oh how I tried / I could never give you what you deserved / Another man surely will”. In contrast, the positive vibe of the title track seems hollow; musically it pushes all the right buttons, but doesn’t have the same blackened heart. ‘New Ice Age’, meanwhile, is a bland disappointment that thrashes around with no real purpose, and could easily be an off cut from their debut.

Ultimately, though, Primary Colours is a resounding triumph. It’s a record that demands to be noticed and taken seriously, a slab of bruised, melancholic and throbbing rock that cannot be ignored. Just when it seemed that straight-up guitar music was dead, The Horrors have managed to wring a few more drops of life from it, and in the process have proved that first impressions aren’t permanent. Your ears aren’t deceiving you: The Horrors really have made the possible album of the year.

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~ by benjaminhewitt on May 1, 2009.

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