I’ll write this review in reverse and say Primary Colours is an astounding, ground-breaking release for The Horrors. It thoroughly galls me to admit this. How I wanted, nay, how I expected to ridicule this record. Point my finger and laugh and feel triumphant in my task. The Horrors were the biggest joke foisted on the music-buying public in 2006/2007. Their second album was destined to be a stillborn like the first. How could this not be true?
The Horrors first appeared as spoilt London art-school nuisances peddling a raucous noise that claimed to be a mix of garage rock and psychedelia. Looking like dandy cartoon goths, they became flavour of the month in the more insipid music tabloids purely because of their scene conspicuousness but where was the substance? Their debut album Strange House was uninviting and uninspiring. They had lived up to every snide doubters expectations and seemed destined for obscurity, yet in the intervening 12 months they were smart enough to realise that necessity is both the mother of invention and reinvention.
Primary Colours, recorded by Chris Cunningham and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, finds The Horrors going to great efforts to rewrite the rulebook. While maintaining their original garage/psyche stance, they’ve taken a deeper interest in 1960’s electronica, with bands like Silver Apples and the sounds of studio wizard Joe Meek, balanced upon Badwan’s fluid prose delivered with a detached hollow voice that begs attention. Perhaps one of the major differences in sound and influences that Barrow brought into the equation was the use of modern technology. Where the band seemed frozen, pushing the same sound on Strange House, it feels like now the doors have been pushed open to a glorious, sensory-disorientating effect.
From the swooping keyboards of “Mirrors Image” to the sonic vibrations of “Three Decades” which sounds like The Tornado’s “Telstar” meets the Psychedelic Furs, with Faris Badwan carrying off the same aloof vocal poise as the Furs’ Richard Butler. New single “Who Can Say” has an infectious keyboard riff who’s origin puzzled but has a Scandinavian flavour which, correct if wrong, recalls ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)”. They’ve truly evolved into something spellbinding. Traces of ’60s electronica, ’80s icy new wave, ’70s krautrock, it’s all there and more. If you were to cut open the body of Primary Colours, you would see all these influences working in perfect rhythm and harmony that is at times unable to fathom just how, but is.
You get a glimpse of the old Horrors on “I Can’t Control Myself” which tucked toward the end of the album is its weakest link. Its repetitive beat and three chord shuffle drones on unspectacularly, its presence only to remind you of their maligned past. The ghost of the Psychedelic Furs returns again more clearly on the title track, a blistering pop song that again seems so effortless in context but irrefutable proof that this is the dawning of a new age for The Horrors. The dawning of which began earlier with the download-only epic “Sea Within A Sea”, a slow-building, brooding piece that was part teutonic experiment, part statement in effect which says “forget everything you once knew”. For the moment I grudgingly have. Primary Colours is an astonishing record.