Review Summary: "Real horrorshow, O my brothers"
How a band can go from being essentially a gimmick, a ghastly caricature of the adolescent phenomenon known as "goth" - to a band that demands respect and, at times, awe and delight, in just one album, is a mystery. For so long a band one would either love to hate or hate to love (come on, "Sheena Is A Parasite" would have been loved if its writers didn't look like a trendy Robert Smith), The Horrors have laid down the gauntlet, and demanded serious critical attention in a UK music scene overpopulated with bands all too ready to ape sounds of yesteryear and tailor them for 21st century consumption.
Apparently drawing inspiration from Can (I've never paid too much attention to them in the past) and My Bloody Valentine (who hasn't heard Loveless"), The Horrors reintroduce themselves with "Mirror's Image", a track that loops a dragging guitar effect over hypnotic drums, to in effect produce a hook that endures for the length of the song - there is not so much a defining chorus as the whole song is designed to stick in your mind. Following tracks "Three Decades", however, serves to remind us that this is still The Horrors - whilst obviously improved, horror movie style keys work constantly under the sheets of sound and metronomic drums, with singer Faris Badwan sounding as though possessed by some of the greats of British music's past - instead of sounding like a ghost from the pages of some third rate children's book.
Single "Who Can Say" is, as expected, one of the catchiest songs, and continues the remarkable consistency. The drums sound the same across the board, and the style is pretty much consistent throughout the album - the lead single utilising a fuzzier, more prominent bass sound - and a passage of continuous bass, slow drums and Faris's polished romantic poetry - "I kissed her with a kiss that could only mean goodbye" proceeding over the track before the keys are introduced to carry off the catchy melody that will surely gain them fans who sit in the middle ground of the British indie rock scene.
The sound is generally cold - not in a bleak way, but The Horrors have not suddenly transformed into a band one can relate to - rather, they have chosen to portray their dissonance and isolation through the medium of music as well as the way they look. "New Ice Age" is probably the best example - the howling of Faris is still there - but it now sounds like a person howling, perhaps in some emotional trauma - far more effective and appealing than the insincere and feeble attempts previously, which merely pushed people away from the band.
The real gem, the coup de grace of the album is undoubtedly "Scarlet Fields", the centrepiece of the album and a true summary of the development of the band. Sticking to the same formula as the same tracks the slices of guitar effects are used sparingly to build up to the chorus, which splashes a simple yet catchy synth line across the canvas - with nice touches of guitar and delay pedal adding a subtlety and nuance to The Horrors that had previously been unthinkable. If you want a quick summary of the sound of this album, this track here is the best presentation of The Horrors v.2. Unfortunately, this consistency of style and quality is largely what prevents the album being an all time great, and leaves it merely as very very good. The quality is high, for sure, but the song remain the same, so to speak. Roughly speaking, you will either like the whole album or you will not like any of it. "I Only Think Of You" offers a rare change of pace, slowing down with a plodding number, the sheets of guitar sound become lower, Faris sounds even more downbeat than before, and one begins to actually suspect that, far from being merely inspired by the man, The Horrors have actually resurrected Ian Curtis from the grave, reanimated his corpse (turns out they might actually be supernatural creatures of the night after all) and commissioned him to write this song. A class track for sure, and high praise indeed - although the song is inflected with enough of The Horrors own pop nous to ensure the above suspicion is never taken seriously...for now, anyway.
This album does not feel like, as some of their contemporaries are guilty of, appropriation of a popular sound for lack of their own, and does not give the sense that The Horrors have merely chosen a point in musical history that will simultaneously give their sound an "intelligent" feel whilst also selling them to kids looking to set themselves apart from the "mainstream" - if anything, the band has taken the influence of bands like Can and My Bloody Valentine, as well as others, and condensed them into more personable songs - lacking the experimentalism of Can, or the heavy guitar feedback that some feel marred My Bloody Valentine's slices of pop bliss, The Horrors have actually learned from their great influences, run it through the horror factory and produced an album worthy of both critical praise .and mass consumption. One feels that, if The Horrors treat this as real musical growth (as opposed to merely another exercise of "dress up" pretend play), they will certainly be capable of producing a classic album that builds upon the beautiful, melodic haunting sounds found here.